At one point there were five AT&T trucks and technicians at my house installing fiber-optic broadband. It’s been smooth sailing since then.
I just upgraded to gigabit broadband at home. But being able to download a 2GB episode of “Game of Thrones” in 16 seconds isn’t what gets me excited.
It’s the ability to upload data at 1 gigabit per second — not just download it — that helped me decide to cancel Comcast and sign up for AT&T Fiber. Downstream data rates are important, but fast upstream speed is what’s going to power the next transformation of home broadband.
If you’re shopping for broadband, the odds are good that internet service providers will rank their speed tiers by download speed. To make abstractions like 100 Mbps per second real, they’ll tell you how long it’ll take to download a movie in full HD resolution (hence my above example). What they won’t tell you is how long it’ll take to upload your video to YouTube or how good your Skype call with grandma will look.
It’s no surprise they don’t highlight these upload speeds, because they’re not very flattering. Network operators have a finite amount of bits they can shuttle around every second, and downloading generally is more important and data-intensive than uploading. So they allocate more of their capacity to downstream data transfer to your home, not upstream data transfer from your home to the internet.
But upload speeds matter. Being able to send data fast is important to videoconferencing, uploading photos, online gaming, collaborating with coworkers and more. Eventually, it could transform the internet again, perhaps the same way it changed when high-speed download speeds helped YouTube trigger the video streaming revolution.
For an example of how fast upload speeds change broadband, look at online backup service Backblaze, which charges $5 per month to keep a copy of your PC’s data. On Thursday, it announced a new version of its backup software that should triple or quadruple most customer’s backup speeds. If you have a fast upstream connection, that means you can send files up to its servers at 100 Mbps. Backblaze’s own chief technology officer has maxed out at 200 Mbps, though he’s an exceptional case.
AT&T promises 940 megabits per second with its gigabit fiber-optic service. For the most part it delivers — though Wi-Fi is slower than a cable connection.
Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET
I’ve been a Backblaze customer for years, and this kind of performance changes the game. For $60 a year they offer unlimited storage, but when I got started, with a slow upstream connection, it took months for all of my data to trickle its way to Backblaze. No way was I going to ditch the backup hard drive in my office.
But at 100 Mbps, you can pump 50 gigabytes per hour into the cloud. That means my current 2-terabyte backup would be finished in less than a day. It’s much faster to update an existing backup, of course, because only new or changed data must be sent, but it’s common for me to come back from a day trip with 10GB or 20GB of photos and video.
No, I’m not going to dump my physical backup drive, because I like to protect my data with multiple methods. But fast upstream data rates make online backup more feasible for people who otherwise wouldn’t bother. Online backup is a lifesaver if you’re the victim of flood, fire or burglary, plus the ability to access files if you’re away from your home computer.
Lots of other services today benefit from good upstream speeds: