Working from home, the importance of upload speed

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In our last blog post we talked about the importance of implementing the EU’s 2020 goal of 30 Mbps for all European citizens and why this was more important than ever given the pandemic lockdowns. If you missed it, you can find it here:  The EU’s Digital Agenda 2020 (30Mbps) is needed more than ever before

Some comments on social media and from Tessares team members pointed out that download speed is not everything and may not even be the most important measure of Internet connectivity. Latency, bufferbloat  and upload speed were mentioned and this time we would like to look at upload speed.

Normally, we download a lot more than we upload. When watching Netflix, almost all of the traffic goes in one direction only – from a Netflix server to your TV.  That all changed early this year when suddenly we were working from home and using videoconferencing more frequently. But, when making a video call, you use the same amount of bandwidth in both directions.

The Digital Agenda for Europe (2010), which defined objectives for connectivity in 2020 set a download speed target of 30Mbps for 100% of the European population but made no mention of upload speeds or any other performance measures. The UK’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) sets a download threshold of 10 Mbps and an upload threshold of 1Mbps. 

Typical Upload Speeds Available

In the UK, 65% of UK broadband packages can achieve 30Mbps download or better.  Regarding the upload speed, Ofcom reported in 2019 that the average for all fixed broadband was 7.2 Mbps. But looking at the 35% on less than 30 Mbps they only average an upload of between 0.6 and 0.8 Mbps. This is because most of them are on ADSL where the maximum upload speed is 1Mbps.


Bandwidth requirements of common video conferencing apps

Zoom is a good benchmark. It has suddenly become the video conferencing of choice being used by educators and even the UK’s virtual parliament. It consumes 1.2 Mbps in both directions for a call of 720p resolution. An HD video call (1080p) uses 50% more meaning 1.8 Mbps. Zoom can adapt to lower bandwidth connections but the video experience will be disappointing.

With a 1Mbps upload speed you could theoretically have a Zoom video call but on only the lowest quality (540p is 600kbps) and even at this lowest setting you would be using at least 60% of your available upload bandwidth. The idea of two people in the home having simultaneous Zoom calls is out of the question. Parents would have to decide whether to have a work conference call or to allow their children to study, not a decision that we should have to make in 2020. 

How much upload speed is enough?

It is not enough to just consider the 600kbps to 1.8 Mbps upload required for a video call as your devices might be doing a lot of uploading in the background: synching cloud drives, posting videos to social media and  backing up photos. An informal survey we conducted showed that people with less than 10Mbps upload speed generally struggle with more than one person video calling or doing other upload intensive activities at the same time.

What percentage of EU households can get this upload speed?

This is harder to determine as most speed surveys like the EU’s DESI report focus on download speeds. We have to infer upload speeds. One way to do this is to check typical upload speeds that are associated with download speeds. Next Generation Access (usually fibre to the cabinet, FTTC or to the home, FTTH)  has been sold at a couple of levels with customers on the lower-end packages receiving just under 10Mbps upload and those on the higher end packages receiving almost 20 Mbps. Not all customers in NGA areas can get the full speed but it is hard to find the data.

According to ThinkBroadband, 80% of FTTC customers can get 10 Mbps upload. Across the EU, 83% of households have access to NGA. So let’s say that 80% of 83%( = 66.4%) can get 10Mbps upload. So, a third of EU households can’t get enough upload bandwidth for two simultaneous video calls or one video call plus one other user uploading documents, images or videos.

Increasing Upload Speed

For most people, the only way to increase upload speed is to change the technology used to access the Internet but not everyone has this option. However, Tessares has helped six European operators combine fixed and mobile network access to boost both download and upload speeds to ensure their end customers can work, learn and play from home.


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