Uploads Are The New Downloads

Got a note from my boss yesterday, asking why my voice on a meeting was speeding up and slowing down and sounding squishy. That shouldn’t be – we pay for and receive gigabit bandwidth (which translates to 500mbps over wifi).

Since forever, ISPs have put all the emphasis on download speeds, and given the general public very slow upload speeds. That was fine, until Covid – most people just want to watch NetFlix and have no need for fast uploads. But now we all have multiple people at home on Zoom at the same time, and upload speeds have become the new bottleneck.

Kids playing near an old boat, China Camp. Photo copyright Scot Hacker, 2020.

When you’re sharing video of yourself, you’re uploading – each person using around 1.5mbps. Three people at once takes you to 4.5mbps. Speedtest said I was getting 3-6mpbs — right on the threshold with no breathing room. But wait – our gigabit service should be giving us 35mbps upload speed!

Contacted the provider and discovered that our cable modem was old enough to have fallen off the end of the “supported” list. So even though we pay for good speed, and we blanket coverage through the house and yard with a mesh network (eero), the bottleneck had become the modem itself. If I’d been leasing the modem from the ISP like most people do, it would have been upgraded by them. But years ago I chose to save on the monthly rental cost by owning my own modem.

So, takeaway is this: If you own your own modem and are having a crappy Zoom experience, check all of your bottlenecks, and re-check your ISP’s modem compatibility list. Also, if your partner shows full-length movies to their students while you’re trying to have critical meetings, consider joining via phone until you get a new modem :)

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