Experiencing Choppy Video Calls or Slow Gaming? You Might Have An Upload Problem
Slow upload speeds make for a bad internet experience. Here's what might be happening, and how to fix it.
David AndersSenior Writer
David Anders is a senior writer for CNET covering broadband providers, smart home devices and security products. Prior to joining CNET, David built his industry expertise writing for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. In his 5 plus years covering broadband, David's work has been referenced by a variety of sources including ArcGIS, DIRECTV and more. David is from and currently resides in the Charlotte area with his wife, son and two cats.
ExpertiseBroadband providers, Home internet, Security Cameras
Is there anything more awkward than realizing you've been talking to a frozen Zoom screen for an unknown number of seconds? "Sorry, my internet's acting up" or something to that effect is the common response, but it's probably more than your internet "acting up." It's probably due to slow and spotty upload speeds.
Unless you have fiber internet, your upload speeds are going to be significantly slower than your download speeds. Most cable, DSL and satellite internet providers don't even advertise upload speeds alongside download speeds in part because they are so much slower.
Locating local internet providers
For example, Spectrum internet speeds are advertised as up to 300Mbps, 500Mbps and 940Mbps. It's implied that those speeds are download speeds, but what about your upload speeds? You'll have to dig a bit deeper -- like checking the fine print or calling customer service -- to discover that the upload speeds for those plans are 10Mbps, 20Mbps and 35Mbps, respectively.
That's nothing against Spectrum as most cable internet providers, including Cox, Optimum and Xfinity, have similar upload speeds and also don't display them nearly as prominently as download speeds. The same goes for DSL and satellite internet, which may come with upload speeds so slow they're not even considered broadband (below 3Mbps).
How to fix an internet plan with slow upload speeds
The best thing you can do is know what the max upload speeds are from a particular provider or plan before signing up. As mentioned above, you may have to look through the fine print or plan details to find them. Don't sign up for a plan with upload speeds that won't meet your needs if there are other options available.
If you already have internet service with upload speeds slower than you'd like or need, consider upgrading to a faster plan. It'll likely cost a little more each month, but you may find the upload speed improvement -- and the boost it'll give your download speeds -- to be worth the extra cost. Again, be sure to look into what your new upload speeds will be before upgrading to a new plan.
Switching providers is another option, especially if fiber optic service from providers such as AT&T, CenturyLink, Google Fiber or Verizon Fios is available. Fiber technology supports the bandwidth required for symmetrical or near-symmetrical download and upload speeds. So if you sign up for a 300Mbps plan, you can expect download and upload speeds of around 300Mbps over a wired connection.
A wired Ethernet connection will almost always give you a faster, more reliable connection. Try using a wired connection if you need fast, stable upload speeds for an important meeting or school project.
Just the same as too many connected devices can affect your download speeds, too many devices uploading at once can slow your upload speeds.
There's only so much bandwidth available. When you have multiple uploads going on at once, they compete with one another. In the case of upload speeds, which are often significantly slower than download speeds, it can take only a couple devices to disrupt upload speeds.
Zoom, for example, can require upload speeds of 3Mbps or higher for a clear, reliable connection. If you've got multiple video calls going on at once, all over Wi-Fi, your upload speeds may not be able to keep up with the demand.
How to fix congested upload bandwidth
While simultaneous meetings or class participation can be unavoidable, try to stagger meetings and limit the number of connected devices whenever possible.
Along with strategically scheduling meeting times to accommodate everyone in your household, ensure your router is set to broadcast 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. There's likely to be less clutter on your 5GHz band, allowing for better connection quality and faster upload speeds.
Additionally, upgrading your internet plan or provider to one with faster max upload speeds will help ensure there's enough to go around.
You've reached your monthly data cap
Believe it or not, uploading files and participating in video calls contribute to your monthly data usage, just like downloading files or streaming TV. Depending on your provider, exceeding your data limit can result in throttled speeds for the remainder of your billing cycle.
This is likely to only be an issue if you have satellite internet. HughesNet and Viasat will drastically reduce speeds once customers have surpassed their monthly data allowance. Select DSL and cable internet providers may also have data caps, but most will charge an overage fee instead of throttling your speeds.
How to fix throttled upload speeds
If you have a monthly data cap, it's best to monitor your activity throughout the billing cycle to avoid going over. Most providers have an app and/or website that lets you keep track of your data usage.
HughesNet allows customers to purchase additional data "tokens" or blocks of data that will return their speeds, upload and download, to normal until the end of the billing cycle or the added data is used up. Viasat doesn't come with this option, but most may come with a higher data allowance than HughesNet depending on the plan you choose.
Of course, your best option is to choose an internet provider with no data cap or at least one that won't throttle your speeds for going over your limit. However, you'll still want to keep an eye on your data usage, as excessive data use could violate your service term agreement, which may result in service interruption.
Looking for more ways to improve your internet connection? Visit the CNET internet hub page for more articles featuring all things related to your home internet service. And for more tips and tricks for around the home, be sure to check out our CNET Home Tips section.