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What are download speed, upload speed & ping?

Disclaimer: The information on this page was correct as of August 23, 2021.

Whether you’re comparing broadband providers or conducting a speed test, you’ll probably find a few technical terms come up that you haven’t heard of. In this guide, we’re going to look at ‘download speed’, ‘upload speed’, and ‘ping’ to help you understand what these terms mean and why they’re so useful. As always, we’ve got you covered!

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Where might you see these terms?

‘Upload speed’, ‘download speed’, and ‘ping’ are all terms used to convey internet speeds. You’ll see them each in different places under different circumstances but all three should be taken into consideration when testing your broadband speeds.

The most likely place that you will see ‘upload speed’ and ‘download speed’ will be when you’re comparing broadband providers and tariffs. They’re advertised by providers to show how fast your internet could be and entice customers with high potential speeds (it’s likely that a lot of people won’t get the high speeds advertised).

Ping is mainly seen when you conduct a broadband speed test. You may also see it when gaming – if your ping is high while playing online, you often receive an error message with a warning and could result in slow load times and lag.

What is download speed?

Download speed refers to how long it takes to download data to your device from an external source, measured in megabits (Mb) or megabits per second (Mbps). Almost everything you do on the internet requires you to download data, so this is an important number to take into consideration.

When comparing broadband tariffs, it’s most often the download speeds that are advertised. This is not only because it’s what we mostly use the internet for, but also because download speeds are a lot higher than upload speeds and therefore more attractive to customers who don’t know much about how internet speeds work.

Download speeds are important to consider for:

  • Streaming videos online
  • Internet browsing
  • Social media
  • Streaming music online
  • Reading online articles
  • Downloading files

What is a good download speed?

The higher the download speed, the faster your internet should be. The average broadband speed in the UK is 81.7Mbps, but not many households will need anything faster than this.

What constitutes a ‘good’ speed will vary depending on individual circumstances, taking into account how many people will be using the internet at once and what it will be used for. For example, if you’re gaming or streaming a lot, you’ll want a higher download speed to avoid buffering and lagging. If you’re a light user who simply uses the internet to browse web pages or check emails, you won’t need nearly as much.

What speeds do you need?

How to improve download speed

If your download speed isn’t what you were expecting, there are a few things you can do to speed them up.

  • Use an ethernet cable instead of WiFi – Using a wired connection means that there will be less interference with your connection, bringing you much faster download speeds.
  • Close software that isn’t being used – Software running in the background might still be downloading content, even if you’re not using it. Close them using Task Manager or by restarting your device to make sure programs are closed completely.
  • Disconnect other devices – The more devices using the internet, the slower your download speed will be. Try disconnecting devices you’re not using like smart devices and wireless printers.
  • Upgrade or replace your router – Older firmware can make the performance of your router decline over time, which will hinder your speeds. Keep your router’s firmware updated by logging into its settings online.
  • Scan for viruses and malware – Viruses, spyware, and malware can cause all kinds of different issues. Whether that’s slowing down your device or using your internet in the background, it’s important to keep your device virus-free. Most providers offer their own antivirus software, but there are plenty of specialist companies to choose from.
  • Limit your bandwidth usage – Your bandwidth determines the amount of data that can be transferred within a network. You can limit how much bandwidth is being used by updating your device’s settings or turning off automatic updates.
  • Change the settings on your router – The default settings on your router aren’t always the best for your needs. Look through the available and current settings to find the right ones.
  • Change your broadband package – If you’re getting the maximum download speeds for your package, but want to speed them up more, you’ll likely get even better speeds by upgrading your package. To make sure you’re on the right package for you, call Utility Switchboard on 020 3049 5898

If you’re not getting the speeds your package says you should be and none of these options helped, you should call your broadband provider. Most providers offer speed guarantees, so letting them know about your problem should result in either money back or improved speeds.

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Why is my file downloading at a slower speed than my speed test says?

This is a common question people have when they’re downloading files. The truth is, it’s not downloading slower at all! While your download says it’s running at 5MBps and your broadband at 40Mbps, this is actually the perfect speed for your downloading file.

But why are the two numbers different? Because they’re measuring two different things.

Your broadband speed and other data transfers are measured in megabits (Mb) or megabits per second (Mbps). Computer storage, however, is measured in megabytes (MB) or megabytes per second (MBps).

Simply, 1 megabyte = 8 megabits. So if your broadband download speed is 40 Mbps, this means that your files will be downloaded at the rate of 5 MBps (40/8).

What is upload speed?

Upload speed refers to how long it takes for data to transfer from your device to another source, measured in megabits (Mb) or megabits per second (Mbps). We don’t often upload as much data as we download, so while you should factor in upload speeds when comparing providers, it most often won’t be your priority and deciding factor.

Despite this, upload speeds are important to take into consideration if you’re regularly using the internet for:

  • Video calling
  • Live tournament-style gaming
  • Sending large attachments and files
  • Backing up data online
  • Uploading media online

What is a good upload speed?

The higher your upload speed, the faster you’ll be able to upload files to external servers and sources. The average upload speed in the UK is 14.2Mbps, however, a ‘good’ speed to aim for is 5Mbps if you’re using the internet for more than just browsing (for which speeds of as little as 1.5Mbps should be fine).

However, with the rise in technology, schools are beginning to favour online homework or asking for work to be uploaded rather than handed in. While low upload speeds won’t affect your child’s ability to do this, it will mean that it takes longer to upload and send each piece, especially if they’re larger files.

Find out more about broadband speeds

How to improve upload speed

Because we upload a lot less than we download online, we might not notice slower upload speeds. However, if you do upload a lot of content, you’ll need better upload speeds.

There are a few ways you can improve your upload speeds, including:

  • Connect using an ethernet cable – Wired connections tend to have higher upload and download speeds over WiFi as there is less interference.
  • Disconnect devices you’re not using from the network – If there are lots of devices sharing your network, the broadband speed on each device will be lower. While not many of these will be uploading, it should still help slightly.
  • Clear your cache, history, cookies, and temporary files – Clearing these can speed up your device in general, increasing internet speeds as a result.
  • Check for viruses and malware – These can affect everything you do on your device, especially internet use. You can easily scan for and remove viruses by downloading antivirus and security software. Your broadband provider might offer this for free or at low prices, however, there are many other companies who specialise in this software.
  • Upload at off-peak times – This is a less practical option, but can still be helpful. Internet speeds are much faster at off-peak times, however, this is generally between 12am and 8am.

However, these are short term fixes. If you’re regularly uploading large files, the best way to improve your upload speed is to upgrade your broadband package or switch providers. To make sure you’re on the best package for you, call Utility Switchboard on 020 3049 5898.

Why are upload speeds so much slower than download speeds?

Your speeds are largely controlled by your broadband provider, however, you only have a set bandwidth to work with. Bandwidth is how much data can be transferred across the network, both uploading and downloading. So, if your bandwidth is 120Mbps, the sum of your upload and download speed should be 120Mbps and how this is split varies by provider and broadband package.

Because the majority of homes download a lot more than they upload, the downloads are allocated more bandwidth to run through, leaving uploads with less. However, with the introduction of different fibre broadband options, there are some packages that are able to offer symmetrical broadband. This means that your upload and download speeds will be the same. This can be a bit more expensive than asymmetrical broadband so it’s normally only used by businesses.

What is ping?

Ping refers to the time it takes for a piece of data to be transmitted from your device to a server and back again. It’s measured in milliseconds (ms) and is a very important indicator of how much of a delay there will be when performing tasks online.

It’s unlikely that you’ll find your ping time unless you’re looking for it, for example when conducting a speed test, as it can vary depending on where the server you’re connecting to is based in comparison with your location.

You’ll want a good ping if you use the internet for:

  • Video calling
  • Playing games online
  • Downloading
  • Streaming

What is a good ping?

The lower the ping, the better. Most of the time, anything under 100ms is considered pretty good, but for the best ping time, you want to aim for under 25ms.

If you’re gaming and your ping times are too high, you might not be able to join a server or be disconnected from one. However, this may be to your benefit as you’d see the game with a high delay, meaning that the same things probably aren’t still happening when you get to see them, making it harder for you to play.

How do I find out my upload speed, download speed, and ping?

When comparing broadband packages, providers will give you estimated minimum and maximum upload and download speeds. But if your internet is running slow or you’re experiencing delays, you might want to check them for yourself.

You can find all three of these speeds by conducting a broadband speed test. There are a number of different companies that offer third-party tests, or you can contact your provider who can do one for you.

When you conduct a speed test, it will take a few seconds to work out your upload and download speeds. However, your ping will be worked out differently. As ping is measured in milliseconds (thousandths of a second) it may seem like it’s not being calculated in a speed test due to the high speeds.

If your upload and download speeds are lower than they should be, you should contact your broadband provider who can either solve the problem or offer alternative solutions. Many of the larger providers offer speed guarantees, meaning that if your broadband drops below a certain speed, you can claim your money back.

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This page was written by...

Polly Tyler

I've loved writing since I was a child and have worked on a number of different projects since I left school, including journalism, copywriting, and marketing. Utilty Switchboard has given me the opportunity to grow my knowledge and experience and I've loved every minute!

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