Download and upload speeds: What you need to know header image

Published: 22nd Jun 2016

The world of broadband can be confusing sometimes, especially when you're trying to work out how fast your service needs to be in order for you to do the things you want when you're online.

You need your connection to be speedy enough to do everything you, your family or housemates love doing on the internet, such as streaming films, downloading music or even doing the weekly food shop.

So how fast does your broadband need to be? Some firms will have you believe you need a light-speed quick service, but this might not be the case and you could end up paying far more than you actually require.

Here is everything you need to know about download and upload speeds.

Download speed

This refers to the speed at which information is transferred from the internet to the computer or device you are using. The higher this figure is, the quicker you will be able to download data - such as photos, music and videos - from websites and software. Furthermore, the quicker this speed is, the more likely it will be that you can stream television shows and films without interruption.

Upload speed

Conversely, the term 'upload speed' describes the rate at which information is transferred from your computer or device to the internet. The faster this is, the smoother your experience will be online. This will also determine how fast you can send data to others, such as emails, social media posts and uploading to images or videos.

Generally, upload speeds will be much slower compared to their download counterpart for home broadband. Usually, service providers will prioritise the latter, so it may take you longer to send data than it does to receive it.  

Checking your current speeds

Without knowing what speeds you currently have access to, you won't know if you're getting value for your money and a good deal. You will also be unable to look around for better deal, as you won't have the information you need to make an accurate comparison.

There are several internet speed testers available online, just simply type the phrase into a search engine and a plethora will appear. When you use this tool, it will be able to give you an accurate reading of both your download and upload speeds, making it clear if you're dealing with racecar-fast or snail-paced connectivity.

If you're seeing something vastly different from the speed advertised when you took out the service, bear in mind that you don't always get this, as often providers say you can get 'up to' a certain download rate.  

Ofcom research

Every six months, regulator Ofcom publishes research about broadband speeds, meaning there will be information available to you to help you make the best decision when it comes to picking the right package. These reports tell you average speeds for the UK as a whole, so you can measure how good yours is by comparison. It also shows you the quality of the service offered by providers, helping to give you an idea of how accurate their top speed adverts are.

What speed do you need?

While you wouldn't be wrong in thinking that the faster your broadband, the better, you could end up paying for more than you actually need. Top-end packages can cost a small fortune and may be wasted if you're not using all the Mbps they provide. Why pay for something if you're not going to use it?

There will be marked differences in the connectivity needs of a large family, a couple and a person that lives on their own. Similarly, the requirements of someone who works from home will be different than someone who leaves their house everyday for their job. Before you make any decisions about speeds, have a think about what you actually need the internet for.