Download Speed vs. Upload Speed: What’s the Difference?

Almost every speed test site tests for download speed, upload speed, and the ping rate. The upload rate is always lower than the download rate. This is a configuration set by the local cable carrier — it is not dependent on the user’s bandwidth or Internet speed.


The Difference

There is none. Download speed is the rate at which data is transferred from the Internet to the user’s computer. The upload speed is the rate that data is transferred from the user’s computer to the Internet. Cable companies set the default setting to download faster than upload. The reasoning behind this is that most people have more of a need to download information. It gives the user the ability to download movies, songs, and a large number of documents quickly.

Although there may be some larger businesses that do require a fast upload speed, there are not many people who need fast uploads. Typically, data uploaded is going to a specific site, not to the general Internet or to multiple sites. Even in these cases, it is usually a rare task to perform.

The term “symmetrical” means that the download and upload speeds are the same. Both speeds are optimally tested when they are symmetrical, but again, this is a rare configuration.

The Process

When performing the download portion of a speed test, many sites use Flash to transport their data to the user’s computer. This is an added hindrance to collecting the correct information. BandwidthPlace does not use Flash and has opted to use HTML5 instead, allowing for a faster, cleaner test rate. During the download process, the server sends packets of binary files to the computer. Some companies that use Flash will not count up to 30 percent of the slowest packets transferred, stating that it makes up for the amount of time no packets are delivered during the ramp-up process (getting Flash prepared to run).

The upload process is similar, grabbing generic bits of data from the user’s computer and transferring it to the server. This data is broken and is not complete information, so the data retrieved is safe.

If you find that your download or upload speed is not equal to what your Internet service provider promised, there are a couple of easy fixes you can perform. Use a wired connection to the router instead of wireless. Performing a speed test across a wireless connection will always give slower results. Remove any firewalls in place while the test is active, but make sure to turn it back on afterward. If you determine that your slow speeds are not a router issue, contact your Internet provider.