The Growth of Upload Usage

I’ve written a number of blogs about the growth of download broadband usage. I recently looked at the growth trend for upload broadband usage and found that upload usage has been growing faster than download usage.

The statistics in the following table come from OpenVault, which has been tracking broadband usage statistics each quarter. The numbers represent the national average monthly usage of broadband for households at the end of the second quarter of each year until before the pandemic. Just like with download usage, there was a big burst in upload usage at the onset of the pandemic as people were sent home. People instantly needed upload links to communicate back to the office or the school. But even since the pandemic, the overall trend shows upload usage growing faster overall than download usage.

Upload Annual Download Annual
Mbps Growth Mbps Growth
2Q 2019 15 265
2Q 2020 23 56% 357 35%
2Q 2021 28 22% 405 13%
2Q 2022 31 11% 460 14%
2Q 2023 36 15% 498 8%

There are a lot of possible explanations for the growth of upload usage:

  • The pandemic trained the whole country to communicate by video conference. This has grown to become a routine practice. I use video conferencing at least a few hours per day, and often a lot more.
  • Over the last five years, a lot of the routine software we use migrated to the cloud. As a common example, Microsoft Office 365 has migrated the Microsoft suite of products to store and save in the cloud. Opening or modifying spreadsheets, Word Documents, or PowerPoints now uses upload bandwidth.
  • There is also widespread use today of collaboration software where multiple people can work on documents, spreadsheets, and graphics at the same time.
  • It’s hard to imagine anybody with a lot of files that doesn’t back them up in Dropbox or the many other storage systems.
  • There is a lot of hidden machine-to-machine traffic where software automatically and routinely connects to the outside world. A few years ago, a Washington Post reporter left his computer running during a month-long vacation and found that his home had generated almost a gigabyte of upload traffic in his absence.
  • It’s now a video-driven world, and people share videos as easily as we used to share pictures.
  • A major portion of gaming has moved to the cloud.
  • We are using a lot more security cameras. There has been a proliferation of doorbell cameras installed as well as inside cameras to check on pets, kids, and babysitters. People routinely check the cameras remotely.

It seems unlikely that upload usage will ever catch up to download usage for most homes. Most people consume more video and other content than they generate. But the volume of average upload usage is still significant. I doubt that anybody a decade ago would have predicted that the average U.S. home would be uploading 36 gigabytes each month.

There doesn’t seem to be any reason on the horizon why the growth won’t continue. More people are sharing videos and other content. We’re slowly creeping towards having early versions of telepresence and virtual reality, which will likely mean a huge bump up in upload usage for many homes. Does anybody care to make a prediction of the average amount of upload usage a decade from now?

2 thoughts on “The Growth of Upload Usage

  1. Don’t these numbers represent average speeds rather than data consumption? In that case, the numbers would suggest operators are increasing upload speeds.

Leave a Reply