What's an Upload?...
Most of us, when we're hunting for the best deal in broadband, look at download speeds and quota. Downloads are the main way most of us interact with the web. It's the process of a server connecting to our computer and "downloading" the information to our browsers cache. There are varying degrees of downloading required depending on whether you're checking email, looking at Facebook, shopping in a virtual catalogue, watching a youTube clip, using HD Skype or streaming an HD movie. Download speeds are important. For many, the most importnat. But what about uploads?
Uploads are what happen usually BEFORE you download. After all, when we type in "funny cat videos" into Google, how does Google know we want results about "funny cat videos", rather than "appallingly inappropriate stuffed cat helicopters...."? This is where uploads come in. Each time we request a webpage or element ON a webpage for information, our computer is uploading; ie asking a server somewhere for access to a file it hosts, such as a webpage or video, or in the case of Google, results of a database query (the database being EVERYTHING on the web Google indexes for search). Uploads, in these cases, make up a tiny portion of our web traffic. They're generally less than 1% of traffic, as they are usually short requests to a server, followed by a much more complex download to display information.
Why do I NEED better Uploads?
In recent years, uploads have become increasingly important. Obviously, they have always been important to web companies; they host the servers all OUR uploads request from, so their servers are CONSTANTLY uploading from our perspective (downloading to us). However, video streaming requires constant, reliable upload speeds to maintain a position in a stream of video. Without it, youTube, Netflix, Bigpond and iTunes type content providers would simply not be able to serve us with content. And Skype video wouldn't exist. Nor Facetime. Certainly, these speeds are usually still a fraction of download speeds, say 200-500Kbps, but get a bunch of them going.....you're gonna have a bad time.
Most people in Australia have ADSL as their main broadband connection. ADSL has VERY poor relative upload speeds. Try some time going to http://www.speedtest.net and checking your uploads. On ADSL? Don't expect over 1Mbps 90% of the time. On cable/HFC? Don't expect over 2Mbps. Wireless is better, on 3G, up to 4Mbps (HSPA-DC) and on 4G, up to 25Mbps...but HIDEOUSLY expensive for heavy day-to-day use. Satellite? Forget it. IF you're lucky enough to already be on fibre, you'll have considerably higher uploads depending on your speed tier. Why is this so? It's fairly complicated largely involving bandwidth allocation and frequency splitting, but essentially it's explained in the name; Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL). It is Asynchronous meaning it is faster in one direction than another. In this case, downloading is much faster. It is the way the technology is based and so it has physical limits to upload speeds. SDSL or more likely SHDSL (Synchronous OR Single-Pair High Speed DSL) are available in Australia, to give similar upload speeds to download. SDSL is not much use for consumers, as it cannot be used with an analog phone service. SHDSL can and can also provide up to 5Mbps at up to 3km from the exchange. But at what price? Type SHDSL into Google and you'll get ads that pop up to show SHDSL lines from as low as....$300 a month....mmm....
Besides, your average consumer doesn't NEED these speeds do they?....do they?? Well, many don't.....now. Most of our applications require much higher downloads than uploads. But have you ever tried to upload a photo? Or worse, a video, particularly if it's HD, to youTube? Takes a while doesn't it.... And this is only the beginning. Many SMB's host their own websites and these servers need upload capacity. If they're popular, upload capacity in the 10's of Mbps may be required. That's NOT cheap, even if you ARE on fibre (as most fibre is a specially provided service outside of Greenfields and selected networks such as TransACT and iinet trials). But the biggest hog of uploads is yet to come.....cloud computing.
Right now, you may or may not be using Dropbox, or gDrive or SkyDrive or any other "cloud" storage solutions. But give it a few years and you'll find it INVALUABLE to have your files wherever and whenever you need them. This is ONLY possible with uploads. And the larger the files, the longer the upload takes....Ever tried streaming your own videos or recorded TV to a computer at a friends house? Don't bother. Unless both of you have HFC as a MINIMUM, it is an exercise in artifacts and blurry half formed video, because your computer simply can't upload the quality of video needed with the bottleneck of speed it has.
So what, the NBN won't help, will it?
Enter the NBN. The NBN, even on it's lower tiers, such as 25(down)/5(up) has, obviously, higher uploads than 90% of premises now. 5Mbps is a 5 fold increase MINIMUM on ADSL2+ (I don't even get 750Kbps). And it's usually a 2 or 3 fold increase on HFC, at around 2Mbps. And it costs just as much, if not less, than you pay now for ADSL2+ or HFC. I've covered this in my previous posts. So, get the NBN and already things are looking up for your daily video making or photo taking, as well ensuring your cloud sync of files doesn't prove an exercise in futility trying to upload a 75mb presentation for work. Go up a tier and you get 50/20. NOW you've got uploads that rival the downloads you are likely to have now (if you're that lucky). Certainly no problems with MULTIPLE users doing all these things now. Video streaming and HD teleconferencing/Skype (particularly heavy on uploads due to your computer needing to transmit high bit-rate video of you) will be a breeze, even for multiple users. We can even go to 100/40....wow.
This is great for consumers. But there are many people who NEED it for business. Not necessarily because they don't have it now, many do. But because it may cost THOUSANDS of dollars a month to get 20 or 30Mbps uploads for a business server. Now, with the NBN? Well, the business plans on iinet can give you 1TB of quota (shared between up and downloads) on 100/40 speeds for $130....THAT's a saving. And there will be new 500/200 and 1000/400 plans later in the NBN build too for proportionally more money a month. Not only will it save current businesses alot of money, but new small businesses based around your own home servers can spring up, because you don't have to pay through the nose for uploads anymore. Anyone with a decent 50/20 or even 25/5 (if it's a site with few images or videos) plan can host their own website and not get hundreds of complaints about poor access times, without having to hand over hundreds of dollars a month for an external company to handle it. (in this case too, you have to remotely upload everything....time consuming and painful if you need to make changes regularly)
WARNING- Tech Speak coming!
Is it possible to get higher uploads WITHOUT the NBN? Yes, definitely. There are technologies for HFC AND ADSL that will enable higher uploads, although they have their problems. I've discussed some of them in my posts about "FTTN vs FTTH....Fight!". The ADSL equivalent, VDSL and VDSL2, have MAJOR range issues, dropping to ADSL speeds even before 2km from the exchange, which, as I've said before, is largely useless considering more than 60% of Australians are more than 2km from their exchange. This is primarily because VDSL works on MUCH higher frequencies than ADSL and they don't propagate as far without degradation. HFC technologies upload increase's largely rely on similar technologies to copper such as QAM and DMT, which I won't go into here. Or on node-splitting ; expensive, unsightly and not guaranteed, depending on demand at the time, as HFC and copper are both shared systems, unlike fibre. This is basically because in HFC and copper, one cable shares multiple connections until the fibre node, whereas FTTH has a single, multi-mode fibre going to each home and back to a fibre node, where either technology combines.
This diagram from Wikipedia illustrates the problem with both HFC and, to some extent, plain copper (although this is specifically an HFC diagram) seeing as multiple hundreds of houses share the same line back to a central hub. This is where node-splitting helps HFC and FTTN, because it reduces the number of shared connections on a line, making more nodes. In FTTH though, each house has its' own single fibre cable, and where they DO combine, like HFC and copper at the node, technologies such as wavelength division-multiplexing enable vastly superior speeds for the main line connection. WDM is available to fibre, because it uses light, which has multiple carrying possibilities in the form of different wavelengths. All wavelengths are distinguishable in light by a detector, as they can simply be amplified at the other end, with no appreciable difference in signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio (seeing as little to nothing can interfere with light in a sealed cable). Whereas in copper and coaxial (HFC), the frequencies are ALL carried electrically and the more noise on the cable, the harder it becomes to amplify, until eventually, the signal has a SNR so low, the signal quality is lost. This happens at a much smaller distance than on fibre. (5km compared to 50km)
Uploads are becoming more and more important in todays web. It allows all of us to share what WE'VE been doing and share our thoughts, ideas and services from our own locations, rather than paying large companies to host for us. It decentralises information, making it harder for hackers AND making it easier to retrieve lost or damaged data, seeing as it's always in the cloud. The NBN will provide these upload speeds for both big and small business at a GREATLY reduced cost. And it will, for the first time, provide access to cheap, fast uploads for the majority of consumers, giving us more freedom in our digital lives.