What are download and upload speeds?

You will always see broadband services advertised as offering download and upload speeds of ‘up to’ a specific number of Mbps (megabits per second). This gives you a good idea of how fast you can expect the service to be – and therefore how much you will be able to do with your broadband. While generally speaking, the higher the figure, the better, it’s important to look in some depth at what you actually need because, if it’s too slow, it won’t allow you to do the things you need or want to do, and if you subscribe to a faster service than you actually need, you will end up paying for something you will never use.

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Why are download and upload speeds different?

You will notice that download speeds are always higher than upload speeds; this is down to the way broadband works. Whatever speed it runs at, broadband is always a shared service. This is partly what makes it more affordable. It also makes it easier to reach everyone.

If you are a big organisation with a lot of people and does a lot of work online – or uses cloud apps or videoconferencing throughout the day, for example, you may need a lot of bandwidth. You might well be able to use a dedicated ‘leased’ line that will give you, say 100Mbps of download and upload speeds. If you are doing a lot of file transfer, using apps, and running live video across the connection, you might need plenty of bandwidth in both directions.

However, if you are a smaller business or a home workers/user, you won’t anywhere need as much bandwidth, and you probably won’t need it all the time either. It therefore makes sense to share the bandwidth with other businesses or people who would only need to use a significant amount of bandwidth now and then.

For most business and individual users, it is also true that you will download much more data and content than you will ever upload. If you are accessing a website, for example, all you need do is send the address to the server – but to display the website, you’ll need download a whole lot of information and images. Similarly, if you were streaming a video or audio recording, you’d send a simple request up to the server, but you’d get a whole lot more back in response.

Also, if the line is shared, the running cost can be shared between multiple users, making broadband much cheaper than a leased line ever would be.

The downside is that a broadband connection is not dedicated, so if a lot of businesses or homes that are connected to the same line try to use it intensively at the same time, you will get congestion – or ‘contention’ as it is called by suppliers.

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What are download speeds?

This is the speed at which information will be sent to you on the broadband connection. Obviously, the bigger it is, the better. If are going to be doing a lot of video conferencing and collaboration on the connection, if you are using cloud apps and services, or if you are streaming video all the time, you will need the download speed to be higher. If you are just using the connection for email and web browsing, you won’t need as much.

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What are upload speeds?

This is the speed at which you can send information to the Internet. As explained above, this does not need to be as fast as the uploads speed as most of the time you are only sending a small amount of data – in the form of an email or a website request for example.

Upload speeds don’t matter quite as much as download speeds – except if you are using video conferencing and collaboration quite a lot. Video need as much bandwidth up and it does down, so if your upload speed is too slow, it might impact the effectiveness of your conference sessions.

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How do I get faster upload and download speeds?

Different broadband services offer different download and upload speeds. These are often prefixed with the words ‘up to’ as there is never any guarantee that sufficient bandwidth will be available on the line; when that happens and you get contention, and your download speed in particular may slow down and it will take longer for web pages to load or emails to come through. This delay or ‘latency’ as it’s often called, will affect your productivity as it means that every time you click your mouse button on a link, it will take slightly longer for a web page to load.

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The more you want to do on broadband, the higher speed of connection you will need. If you just need to do simple web surfing and email – and it’s just you – you may well be OK with a ‘standard’ 30Mbps broadband service. But if you want to stream TV channels, run video conferencing, and use cloud apps for example, and there are several people who will be doing this throughout the day, you will need a faster, fibre-based service.

You’ll obviously pay more for fibre services and less for standard broadband.

It’s generally the view today that the higher speed you can get, the better and with our dependency on Internet connections – for our work and personal lives – growing all the time, you need to think about your future as well as current needs. The chances that that your need for higher bandwidth will keep growing, so you need to consider the balance between speed and cost carefully.

As a general rule, most businesses today really ought to be using a superfast or ultrafast fibre connection; at home too, if you – especially if you want to watch catch-up TV in HD, you really ought to be looking at a fibre connection that will give you up to 80Mbps or higher download speeds. It is only if you have the simplest of needs – and don’t expect them to change – that the speed of a standard broadband service will be sufficient.

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