What Is Download Speed vs. Upload Speed?

Some examples of the difference between download and upload speeds so you’re not confused

Once you dive into the world of tech, there are so many terms that sound almost the same. 5G, Wi-Fi 6, IP addresses—the list goes on. The good news is even the most techy terms and cyber lingo all boils down to a simple answer: the difference between download speed and upload speed isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

Enough small talk, let’s bring you up to speed.

What is download speed?

Download speed is how quickly information transfers from an internet server to your laptop, tablet, phone, or any other device. Think of it like lightning striking a tree … Hopefully your download speed is just as fast.

If you’ve ever waited on a file to download to your computer, you know that the speed can vary. Similarly, if you’ve downloaded music, videos, or any other information from the internet, then you’ve experienced some kind of download speed.2

What affects download speed?

There are two main factors that can affect your download speed: first, it all depends on the size of the file you’re downloading. Second, your actual internet speed really makes a difference.

If you’re trying to download Call of Duty on your PlayStation, and it’s taking a really long time, it’s likely because the file is so large. Internet data, or files, are measured in bytes (kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, and on it goes). There are actually calculators you can use for free if you’re wondering how long a download will take. All you have to do is enter the file size and provide your internet speed.

Here’s the kind of info you can figure out from using a calculator, this one tells you how fast you can download CyberPunk 2077.

Time it takes to download games depending on your internet speed 1
Internet speedFile sizeDownload time
3 Mbps 70 GB2.5 days
4 Mbps 70 GB1 day and 16 hours
100 Mbps70 GB1 hour and 40 minutes

As you can see above, the Internet speed is what’s making the difference in how long you’ll wait to play CyberPunk 2077. Since the file size is the same, it’s not affecting the speed. Same is true for the reverse: download speed can change when the file size changes, even if the internet speed is fast.

Remember, download speed is simply the speed it takes to download a file, video, song, picture, you name it. Now that you’ve got that down, we’ll explore upload speed.

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Mbps vs. Megabytes
Keep in mind that internet speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps). While this might sound a lot like megabytes, don’t confuse these two, it’s very different. Mbps is used to measure speed, and megabytes measure the size of a digital file.

What is upload speed?

Upload speed is how long it takes for your device to send information to a server. It’s the opposite of download speed. When you’re uploading something, it means you’re sending information to the cloud, to the internet, out into cyberspace.

To break this down even more, you’re uploading when you post a picture to social media, send an email to a colleague, or answer a quick text. You might not initially think of this as uploading, but that’s what it is.

It’s safe to say we all want faster uploading speeds, so let’s explore what affects it.

What affects upload speed?

The two largest factors affecting your upload speed is your internet service provider (ISP) and your internet bandwidth.3 Don’t worry, we’ll explain why.

Bandwidth is really how much information can travel at the same time. Think of it like water traveling through a garden hose. The more bandwidth you have, the easier it is for information to travel from your computer to the internet.

Your ISP controls the speed of your internet overall, which does impact your upload speed. Your data travels from your device to your ISP’s network. If you’re having trouble with upload speed and want to know why, contact your ISP and ask to speak to a representative.

Additional reading:

What is Latency and How Do You Fix It? 

Can I Use a VPN with Netflix?

How to Watch Canadian Netflix in the US or UK

Best VPN Services for Online Privacy

What Is a VPN and Why You Need One


  1. Download Time Calculator, “Calculate The Required Time for Download Data.” Accessed January 28, 2021.
  2. Federal Communications Commission, “Broadband Speed Guide” February 5, 2020. Accessed January 28, 2021.
  3. Jason Artman, “What Can Affect Upload Speeds?” Accessed January 28, 2021.