Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Why am I not getting the upload speeds I expect?


I’ve set up an ftp server. My ISP is giving me an ADSL connection with an
speed they say is 768k for uploads and 8meg down. And yet I’m seeing my uploads are
around 85k and 90k.

I need faster uploads. Can I change something about my system to make that

There’s one big potential point of confusion here, so let’s take this
opportunity to review upload and download speeds, what they really mean, and
what you can do to maximize them.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

The person asking the question had also gone to some of the on-line speed
testing sites, such as that at Broadband
. The numbers being show there more-or-less matched the figures that
his ISP was providing.

That’s actually good news. And, to be honest, I’m quite jealous. 768k up /
8meg down looks wonderful to me – because of telephone company limitations (and
no cable in my area) I’m limited to 128k up and 768k down. Once upon a time
that was blazingly fast. Now, not so much. Did I mention I’m jealous?

But just what do those numbers mean?

First, realize that they’re measurements in bits per second
or bps. That means on my DSL connection, I can upload at a maximum
speed of 128k, or 131,072 (128 x 1,024) bps. Similarly, I can download at a
maximum of 785,432 (768 x 1,024) bps. My faster questioner can upload at
785,432 bps and download at a whopping 8,388,608 (8 x 1,024 x 1,024) bps.

But we measure downloads and file sizes in bytes not bits. So a
more meaningful number might be the download speed in Bytes per second (Bps –
notice that the “B” is capitalized? Subtle.) With 8 bits to a byte, a speed of
768k bits per second works out to … 98,304 Bytes per
second, or 96KBps.

So when you say that you’re seeing uploads at around “85k and 90k” it leads
me to wonder if you’re measuring your uploads in Bytes per second, and
comparing to the line speed expressed in bits per second. If that’s
the case, then the numbers you’re seeing are quite reasonable.

Why aren’t they actually at the 96KBps I calculated your line speed to be in
Bytes per second?

In a word: overhead. If you’re measuring based on file size, then the
communications protocols involved in transferring that file break it up into
“chunks”, adding a little bit of overhead data to each chunk to create a packet
that can then be properly reassembled into the original file. There are also
overhead delays involved in most communications protocols – the time it takes
to start sending each packet and the time it takes to verify and acknowledge
back that the packet was properly received.

“The bottom line here is that your connection to the
internet is most likely your real bottleneck.”

Because of that overhead, I typically just divide by 10 for a rough estimate
of actual, effective transfer rate. My 768kbps DSL roughly downloads
at around 76KBps, or 76k Bytes per second. Very roughly. But it’s slightly
easier math, then, to see about how long my next download will take.

And of course other network traffic can affect the effective speed as well.
If you’re downloading your email while you’re uploading a file on the same
internet connection, both operations will slow down some. If you’re on cable,
you’re actually sharing your bandwidth with your neighbors – so if they’re doing something
internet-intensive, that could also impact your speeds.

The bottom line here is that your connection to the internet is most likely
your real bottleneck. Barring other software on your machine that’s ‘clogging
the line’ trying to do something on the internet at the same time you are,
you’re at the mercy of the capacity of that line, and what your ISP can provide

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

7 comments on “Why am I not getting the upload speeds I expect?”

  1. Have to agree that he may be looking at KBps instead of Kbps. When I’m using WinSCP to upload it reports in bytes per second, not bits. But, as a caveat, in an upload/download, it always takes two to tango.

    If you’re uploading to a heavily used server, it may well be that enough of its available incoming bandwidth is being parceled out to other uploaders and server functionss that it only has 85-90 kilobits per second available for receiving your upload. That would explain your observed speeds.

    I have an 8/768 line through Comcast, but my cable doesn’t enter the house anywhere near my home office, so I use BPL (Broadband over Power Line) bridges to connect the router in my home office to the cable modem in another room.

    That gives me an effective speed of around 4400/695, which is around what I was getting with a 6/768 DSL line going straight into the office that cost me 2x as much.

    I don’t mention my speeds to help you, though. It’s just to rub it in with Leo. Comparing his house to mine is like comparing a Bentley to a Honda. So, though I have “estate envy”, I have at least this one thing to feel smug about.

  2. A surprise to me was finding out that as the available bandwidth goes up older routers may actually be a limiting factor (at least for download). Tom’s Hardware recently put up a chart showing upload and download capabilities of routers over time and some of the older ones won’t keep up with 8mbs down. A friend of mine recently confirmed this on his connection by after swapping out a fairly old LinkSys.



  3. You are getting right at your true speed… You are looking at the wrong term..

    90KB X 8 = 720Kb/s upload…

    DONT get Kb and KB mixed up.. many people do.

    90 times 8 is 720

  4. I have AT&T Uverse 18max, 18meg download speeds and about 1.5 upload. My PC with wireless modem does a speed test about 8500 download & 1500 upload from St Louis to Chicago, BUT my cheap $600 HP laptop with built in wireless WIFI modem gets 17,500 download speeds and 1500 upload in the same room. What gives? They both have Norton Internet Security, and even if I turn it all off on my PC, nothing changes. I made sure the Windows firewall is turned off, ran a defrag, scandisk, full virus scan, see no other processes running etc., and it still won’t budge above 8500 download. So why does my cheap ass laptop get faster download speeds? I have 2meg of RAM in my PC, more than the 512k in my laptop. Do I have to delete pics, music & movies for it to get faster? I don’t see what difference that would make since none of them have anyhing to do with active programs. Please give me a suggestion on what to do. Thanks.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.