What Is Download Speed vs. Upload Speed?

Easton Smith
Jan 04, 2024
Icon Time To Read3 min read

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Internet speeds are usually expressed in a single number, like 100Mbps (megabits per second). But this is just the download speed. There is another metric, called upload speed, that is also important. Here are some quick definitions of both.

Internet download speed: This is how fast data travels from the server to your computer, phone, or other device. This is important for things like streaming video, browsing websites, and gaming.

Internet upload speed: This is how fast data travels from your device back to the internet. Upload speed isn’t as important as download speed for most people, but it can be essential for certain activities, like video conferencing and uploading large files.

We’ll go over everything you need to know about upload and download speeds, help you understand how much speed you need, and point you to where you can get it. But before you go on, check out the fastest internet service providers (ISPs) in your area using this zip check tool.

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Fastest internet providers

The best way to get fast download and upload speeds is to choose a top-tier internet plan. While your options will definitely vary depending on where you live, these are some of the best options for fast download upload speeds.

Fastest internet providers comparison chart

Provider
Monthly price range
Download speed range
Upload speed range
Details
Google Fiber$70-$150*1000-8000 Mbps1000-8000 Mbps
AT&T Fiber$55-$225300-5000 Mbps300-5000 Mbps
Optimum Internet$30-$265300-8000 Mbps20-8000 Mbps
Verizon Fios Home Internet$49.99-$89.99^300-2300 Mbps10-2300 Mbps
Xfinity Internet$20-$85°75-1200 Mbps10-35 Mbps
Data as of 04/05/2023. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* Plus taxes and fees. Upload/download speed and device streaming claims are based on maximum wired speeds. Actual Internet speeds are not guaranteed and may vary based on factors such as hardware and software limitations, latency, packet loss, etc.
Price after $5/mo Autopay & Paperless bill discount (w/in 2 bills). Plus taxes $ fees. Limited availability. May not be available in your area.
Prices w/Auto Pay & Paperless Bill. Terms apply. Not available in all areas.
^ Price per month with Auto Pay & without select 5G mobile plans. Fios plan prices include taxes & fees
° Pricing for some packages are for the first 12 months. Some packages require a 1- or 2-year contract.

Now that you know where to look for fast internet, let’s take a deeper dive into different kinds of internet speed.

What’s the difference between download and upload speed?

As we mentioned above, download speed is about how fast data travels from the internet to your device. Upload speed is the opposite.

Most of what we do on the internet—scrolling through Instagram, sending emails, playing online games, binging the latest season of The Great British Baking Show—requires relatively good download speeds. That’s because a lot of information needs to go from, for example, the Netflix servers to our laptop.

But, as with a highway, there needs to be a lane going in the other direction. Upload speeds are important for transmitting the information you send back to the internet, like when you click on an advertisement, upload a video to YouTube, or move around in an online game.

Why are upload speeds usually slower than download speeds?

There are many different kinds of internet. Most kinds—including DSL, cable, satellite, and fixed 5G—are designed to optimize download speeds. This is fine for most users because download speeds are significantly more important than upload speeds for most normal activities.

However, fiber internet networks are designed to offer optimal speed and reliability, including very high upload speeds. These upload speeds can even be equal to the download speeds, making fiber connections ideal for remote workers, serious gamers, and others who need fast and responsive internet connections.

What is symmetrical internet?

You may have heard the term symmetrical internet or symmetrical speeds. This simply means that the internet service has upload speeds that are just as fast as its download speeds. The only internet technology that offers truly symmetrical speeds is fiber.

Here’s a look at our favorite symmetrical internet plans from AT&T, Google Fiber, Verizon, and other providers.

Best symmetrical internet plans comparison chart

Plan
Price
Download speed
Upload speed
Details
AT&T Internet 500$65/mo.**500 Mbps500 Mbps
1 Gig$70/mo.*1000 Mbps1000 Mbps
Internet 500/500$69.99/mo.^500 Mbps500 Mbps
Fiber 1 Gig$69.99/mo. w/ Auto Pay and Paperless Bill††1000 Mbps1000 Mbps
CenturyLink Fiber Gigabit$75/mo.‡‡Up to 940 MbpsUp to 940 Mbps
** Price after $5/mo Autopay & Paperless bill discount (w/in 2 bills). Plus taxes & fees. Monthly State Cost Recovery Charge in TX, OH, NV applies. One time install chrg may apply. Ltd. avail/areas. Call or go to www.fiber.att.com to see if you qualify. Speeds based on wired connection. Actual speeds may vary. For more info, go to www.att.com/speed101.
* Plus taxes and fees. Upload/download speed and device streaming claims are based on maximum wired speeds. Actual Internet speeds are not guaranteed and may vary based on factors such as hardware and software limitations, latency, packet loss, etc.
^ Price per month with Auto Pay & without select 5G mobile plans. Fios plan prices include taxes & fees
†† w/ Auto Pay & Paperless Bill. Max wired speed 1000/1000 Mbps. Location dependent. Wi-Fi, actual & average speeds vary. One-time charges apply.
‡‡ Speed may not be available in your area. Maximum download/upload speed of up to 940 Mbps via a wired connection. Paperless billing required. Taxes and fees apply. Offer details. Offer includes professional installation at customer’s eligible location

Test your internet speed

How many Mbps do you really need? It depends on what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis. One of the best places to start is to determine how fast your current internet connection is.

You can test your own upload and download speeds using our accurate internet speed test. Now that you know what you’re currently working with, you can figure out if you need an upgrade (or if you need to call your ISP because you’re not getting the speeds you should be).

What is a good download speed?

There is no single internet speed that will work for everyone. But, generally speaking, most users want at least 25Mbps for general activities like browsing, streaming, and using social media. Keep in mind that you won’t always get the highest speeds that are advertised for your plan (a 100Mbps internet plan will often get real world speeds of about 50Mbps).

The more devices you have going at once, the more strain you put on your download speed bandwidth. That said, here are some good general download speed benchmarks for different activities:

  • Web browsing: 5–15Mbps
  • Email: 5–10Mbps
  • Social media: 10–25Mbps
  • Streaming HD video: 25–50Mbps
  • Security devices and cameras: 25–50Mbps
  • Online gaming: 25–100Mbps
  • Working from home: 50–100Mbps
  • Streaming 4K video: 100–500Mbps
  • Streaming or gaming on more than three devices: 100–500Mbps

What is a good upload speed?

Most households need upload speeds of about 10Mbps for everyday activities, like gaming, streaming, and working from home. However, if you’re regularly Zooming into meetings on multiple devices, uploading large files, or playing serious online tournaments in COD, then you might want upload speeds of 25Mbps or more.

The real question is: Do you need fiber internet or not? If you don’t have fiber internet, your upload speeds will always be around 10–25Mbps. If you do have fiber, they can go as high as 1Gbps or higher.

Unfortunately, in certain rural areas, you may be stuck with slow upload speeds no matter what.

How fast is fiber vs. cable vs. DSL internet?

Your internet performance will largely depend on what kind of internet you’re working with. Here’s a quick breakdown of the normal download and upload speeds you can expect with different kinds of internet technology.

Internet type
Normal download speeds
Normal download speeds
Examples
DSL10–50Mbps1–10MbpsSome CenturyLink, AT&T, and Xfinity plans
Cable100–500Mbps 5–25MbpsXfinity, Cox, Spectrum, and Optimum
Fiber300–2,000Mbps 300–2,000Mbps Google Fiber, AT&T Fiber, Verizon Fios
Fixed 5G50–100Mbps 50–100MbpsT-Mobile 5G Home Internet, Verizon 5G Home Internet
Satellite internet25–50Mbps5–50MbpsHughesnet, Viasat, StarLink

If you want to see the best cable, fiber, DSL, and other internet providers that are available in your area, just use this fancy zip code finder tool!

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Easton Smith
Written by
Easton Smith
Easton has worked as a freelance writer and researcher for several years, reviewing health, lifestyle, and technology products. He has probably read more Terms of Use contracts than any human alive. When he’s not sitting in front of a computer, Easton spends his time camping, climbing, and volunteering with humanitarian aid organizations.

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