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The Two-Way Super Highway: Upload and Download Speeds

DOWNLOADWhether you're watching a movie, sending an e-mail, posting a tweet, or reading an e-book, you're interacting online using a two-way connection. What you put out and what comes to you, and the speed with which it is sent and delivered, is determined by the speed of your Internet connection. Traditionally, as the web has commonly been used as a one-way medium for viewing, reading, and watching, download speeds have been at the forefront of attention. Most Internet Service Providers (ISP) characterize Internet quality by the download speed provided. However, as more users are producing content, as well as viewing it, upload speeds are becoming just as important.

Different types of Internet connections—most commonly broadband through cable lines, phones lines, and fiber optics—provide different upload and download speeds. Many different factors can affect and interfere with Internet speeds, including the hardware configuration supporting the connection, wireless routers, firewalls, the sites being accessed, and other factors. Most homes require more download capacity than upload, so most ISPs provide more downloading power.

Cable download speeds can vary between 2 and 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds vary between 1 and 5 Mbps. Internet through phone lines (DSL) typically provides download speeds from 1 to 10 Mbps and upload speeds of 2 Mbps or less. Internet through fiber optics provide symmetric service, meaning upload and download speeds are approximately the same, between 100 and 1000 Mbps. As more users, both residents and businesses, are uploading more data—movies, pictures, schematics, CAD drawings, artwork, songs—upload speed requirements are mounting.

“Before, it [fiber internet] was a novelty,” said Anthony Vissman, Director of Business Development at Winn Telecom in Northern and Central Michigan. “But, moving forward, it will be a quality of life issue.” As more devices compete at home—smartphones, tablets, game consoles, TVs, laptops, and more—every megabit available becomes more valuable.

For businesses, speed becomes even more important. “It all goes back to business productivity,” said Vissman. “If you have a sales force pushing out sales data and it takes five minutes to send out a document, it wastes times.”

Financial documents, technical drawings, software, scientific documents, video productions, audio files, and other large file types can occupy between 10 megabytes (one data “byte” equals eight data “bits”) and up to 10 gigabytes (10,000 megabytes) or more. Depending on the file being sent, upload speed can make the difference between waiting a few seconds or up to an hour.

See the maps on to find what Internet options are available in your area and find out the latest developments in local broadband on our blog.