It’s probably been a hot minute since you thought about the word “symmetrical.” When was the last time you even said it? Back in geometry class? But now that your protractor and compass are fuzzy memories, you may be hearing that word in a different context: internet service.

Symmetrical speed is no longer just inside-industry jargon, and it’s becoming more important to consumers and businesses. If symmetrical speed isn’t in your vocabulary yet, let’s walk through what it is, why it matters, and how it might affect your connected life.

What is symmetrical internet speed?

“Symmetry,” in your old geometry class, meant shapes that are the same on both sides if you split them down the middle. Symmetrical internet speed is similar. It means there’s no difference in how fast data moves in different directions. In other words, uploads move at the same speed as downloads. So, if your download speed is 100 Mbps (Mbps means megabits, or one million bits of data, per second), your upload speed is also 100 Mbps. Internet carriers usually market it as “100 Mbps/100 Mbps,” meaning uploads and downloads are the same speed.

A woman watches a video on her smartphone.

The difference between downloads and uploads

Any time you interact online, you’re either downloading data or uploading it. Scrolling through social media, binge-watching a show, or saving an email attachment are all types of downloads. When you put a video on TikTok or send an email, you’re uploading. And if you’re on a video call for work, you’re doing both at the same time. Depending on your internet service, you may have picked up on a speed discrepancy.

Not all internet is created equal

When a video in your Facebook feed plays lightning-fast, but the video you post to Instagram takes forever to load, you’re experiencing “asymmetrical” internet. Your download speed is faster than your upload speed. Why?

Internet technologies work differently when it comes to upload and download speeds. Older, traditional technologies like cable or DSL usually have “asymmetrical” speeds—their downloads are faster than uploads. For fiber-optic internet like Quantum Fiber, symmetrical upload and download speeds are typical.

Think of the asymmetrical speeds of cable or DSL as an interstate highway. There are three lanes for downloads, and the speed limit is 75. But on the upload side of the road, there’s only one open lane and a speed limit of 35. So, while upload traffic gets through, it’s slower and can back up. When you see that buffering wheel or painfully slow progress bar, it could mean there’s a data traffic jam in the upload lane.

A fiber-optic service, like Quantum Fiber, is a different internet technology altogether, built for equal, simultaneous download and upload speeds.

Traditional technologies have unequal speeds for a couple of reasons. First, the older copper wiring has limited bandwidth (fewer lanes on the “highway”). Second, these carriers often prioritize faster download speeds, based on the idea that customers download more than they upload. While historically accurate, there’s been a dramatic shift recently in how much we upload. More on that later.

A couple browses the internet on a smartphone together in their living room.

The upsides of faster upload speeds

Content creators, businesses, remote workers, distance learners, and live-streaming gamers stand to gain the most from faster uploads. Sharing of large graphic files, video calls, and telemedicine appointments all happen more frequently today. These activities not only cause our devices and applications to eat up more bandwidth, but they also require faster connectivity. When downloads and uploads are equally speedy, data backlogs can be avoided, and devices and systems can run more smoothly and efficiently.

For both large and small businesses that rely on cloud connectivity, symmetrical internet allows numerous employees to upload and download simultaneously. That helps keep systems, apps, and people at peak productivity.

Final thoughts

We will never do less online than we are doing right now. Over time, more of our livelihoods, leisure, and lives will depend on an internet connection. As systems, technologies, and applications become more sophisticated, we’ll have to do more uploading—and we’ll need faster upload speeds to accomplish that. The symmetrical experience offered by fiber-optics can keep pace with our skyrocketing broadband use and the rapidly evolving technologies we rely on. The implications are clear. Fiber internet and symmetrical speeds are the future.