When it comes to internet speeds, download speeds get all the glory. But upload speeds are increasingly important as the way we use home internet shifts. Here’s how much you need.
How Much Bandwidth Common Activities Require
We recently looked at how much download speed you really need, so if you’re curious about that other side of the bandwidth equation, we recommend you check it out. Let’s examine upload speed with a similar approach.
Historically, very few people paid attention to upload speeds because the vast majority of people using the internet at home were using it for activities focused on how fast they could get data to their devices (and not how fast they could send data out into the world).
To a large degree, that’s still true. Most folks care more about getting a smooth streaming experience than how fast their email attachments upload.
But thanks to the number of people working from home as well as the increase in individuals creating content for platforms like YouTube, Twitch, and other services, the demand for upload bandwidth has increased significantly in just a few years.
How much upload bandwidth do you actually need though? Let’s start by looking at how much upload bandwidth common internet activities use. Below are the upload speeds we would consider the absolute minimum for a smooth experience.
|Internet Activity||Minimum Recommended Upload Speed|
|VoIP Calling||0.5-1 Mbps|
|Online Gaming||1 Mbps|
|Video Conferencing||1-4 Mbps|
|Cloud-based Security Camera||1-4 Mbps|
|Live Streaming||1-5 Mbps|
|Cloud-based Backup||5-10+ Mbps|
You might notice there is a kind of entry noticeably absent from the table above. There’s no entry for anything like “General Web Browsing” or “Social Media” like there was in the similar table in our article about download speeds.
Those activities are highly download-dependent and use barely any upload bandwidth at all. When you visit a website, browse Instagram, or fire up your smart TV and start watching Netflix, you’re sending tiny little requests to remote servers to send you data.
Think of it like you’re placing an online order for physical goods. You send a request to the retailer and they ship you a big ol’ box of stuff you ordered. In the same way, when you’re browsing the web or picking a Netflix show, you’re just saying “Hey, that one right over there,” and then the remote servers send the big bundle of data you requested your way.
You might also notice that the recommended bandwidth for some of the entries varies between this upload speed list and the download speed list in the companion article. That’s because how much data you need to download and upload for some experiences like video conferencing or online gaming is asymmetric. You’re downloading more data than you’re sending back.
Additionally, you might note that “Cloud-based Backup” is the only open-ended entry in the list. That’s because much like there is an upper threshold to how much bandwidth you need to download, say, HD video, there is also an upper threshold to how much bandwidth you need to upload HD video. You’re not going to get 100-times the live streaming experience by having a connection with 100-times more bandwidth than the live stream to YouTube, Instagram, or Twitch demands.
But when it comes to an activity like uploading your entire hard drive or backing up your entire phone to the cloud, however, the experience is actually improved by having double (or more) the available upload bandwidth.
Calculating Your Household’s Bandwidth Needs
Much like you can calculate how much download bandwidth your household might need, you can also do some simple calculations to figure out how much upload bandwidth you need.
If you’re fortunate enough to have symmetric internet (where your download speed and upload speed are the same such as with most fiber internet packages) then there’s a good chance you can just outright skip even bothering with any sort of calculations. Even modest symmetric connections, like 100 Mbps download/100 Mbps upload, offer more than enough for the majority of people.
But if you do want to crunch the numbers, perhaps because you’re stuck debating if upgrading from one asymmetric cable internet package to the next tier is worth it, you can do so fairly easily.
Just total up the number of people actively using the internet in your household as well as the internet activities they normally engage in. Three people using the internet to video conference all day? Not a bad idea to have at least 15 Mbps download or more to cover that.
Tip: Multiplying the number of active internet users in your household by 5 Mbps is a good way to get an estimate of the minimum upload bandwidth you need for routine activities.
Don’t forget, by the way, to include any devices on your home network that need upload bandwidth. Your Google Nest cameras aren’t members of the household but if you’re using the continuous recording feature each camera is using 1-4 Mbps depending on the model and the settings you’ve selected.
If you have the doorbell camera, two outdoor cameras, and a camera in your foyer, that’s 4-16 Mbps worth of bandwidth right there, all day every day, without anyone in the household actively doing anything.
Situations Where High Upload Speed Is Desirable
Once you have enough upload bandwidth for your household’s basic needs—everyone can use the internet comfortably, nobody’s game is unplayable, and so on—you’re set for the most part.
But there are situations where having a just-enough upload speed isn’t ideal and it’s worth considering upgrading to get more upload bandwidth or even switching ISPs, if possible, to get a symmetric connection in order to out from under a cruddy 100/5 cable connection.
You Upload Large Files
In our discussion about download bandwidth, we heavily emphasized that it wasn’t always worth it to upgrade to the fastest internet. You might shave an hour off a large video game download but at the expense of spending hundreds of extra dollars a year.
If uploading large files is a routine part of your hobby or job, however, it’s certainly worth upgrading to a better internet package to cut down on sitting around waiting for uploads to finish.
Use Cloud-based Services Extensively
Whether you’re uploading all your local files to Dropbox or you’re streaming all your security cameras to a cloud service, a slow upload speed really hampers the process.
Back in the day when I first started using remote backup for my computers, for example, I only had a 3 Mbps upload. Worse yet, in order to leave upload bandwidth for everything else, I had to throttle the backup upload speed to even less than that. My first complete backup took weeks to complete. Incremental backups after that weren’t that long, but they certainly weren’t speedy.
If you’re living a very cloud-centric life with remote backups for your computers and phones, as well as using security cameras and other bandwidth-hungry devices, you need a good upload speed to avoid waiting around forever to complete backups or downgrading your security camera’s video quality.
You Host a Media Server
Not everyone gets into the joy of locally hosting content, but for those folks that do (and I count myself among them), it’s really frustrating to have a cool collection of movies, TV shows, music, and other content you can’t use away from home.
For years I couldn’t use my Plex server away from home because my upload was so bad it couldn’t support real-time streaming to my remote devices. The physical server it was hosted on in my house was fast, my home network was fast, and even my download speed was pretty fast. But the upload speed was such hot garbage it struggled to even deliver a TV show in 480p (SD) video to a tablet outside the house.
Even when I upgraded my cable internet package, the asymmetric download/upload speeds meant my home media server was useless if I wasn’t at home. It was only when I switched to a symmetric fiber connection that I could finally pull out my phone anywhere and access my media properly.
If you’re running a personal Netflix setup out of your house or hosting any other sort of bandwidth-intensive endeavor then you, naturally, need the bandwidth to make it happen.
You Make Money Off Content Creation
If you’re streaming to Twitch or YouTube for the fun of it, then maybe shelling out a bunch of money for an upgraded internet connection isn’t worth it. Hundreds of dollars extra a year just to upload a higher quality stream of you goofing around stealing sweet rolls in Skyrim or digging mineshaft after mineshaft in Minecraft might not be a priority.
But for folks actually using streaming for an income source, you really can’t go wrong spending money to make money. Upgrading your webcam, your lighting, and your internet can help you produce higher-quality content.
Those examples aside though, the upload speed conversation circles back around in the same way the download speed conversation does. If you have sufficient upload bandwidth for your needs then upgrading (and spending more money in the process) will have diminishing returns.