A live video streaming setup has to meet two major requirements. The first is that the hardware is powerful enough to handle the encoding of video in real time and sometimes even run video games in high settings simultaneously. The second requirement is a good upload speed.
You can get all the hardware you need for streaming in a smartphone or a decent computer. Getting a good upload speed for streaming is trickier.
Before you start calling your ISP to inquire about more bandwidth, you first need to know what a good upload speed for streaming is. Unfortunately, this is one of those questions that don’t have a precise answer.
What is a good upload speed for streaming? A speed that allows you to stream the content you want to the platform of your choice without any major issues. It should also be capable of delivering your content at a quality that, at the very least, will not disadvantage you or make you a less-competitive streamer. So, basically, anything between 672 kbps and 61.5 Mbps can be good.
Not happy with the answer? Good. There are some rules of thumb or generally accepted values for good upload speeds. Those are worth knowing. But we’ll also dig a bit deeper to find a good upload speed for your live stream needs.
Understanding download/upload speeds
What do you think people do the most online? We know that the most popular website in the world is Google. It’s followed by YouTube, Facebook, Baidu, and Wikipedia. So that’s two search engines, an encyclopedia, a social network/video platform, and a video platform/social network.
People consume content online. They seek it out, identify it, and then read, listen, or watch it. To be able to do that, their devices need to ingest data, which comes to them in the form of bits. Your internet connection’s download rate shows you how many bits of data your computer can take in from the Internet using that connection. Usually, the rate is expressed in millions of bits — or megabits — per second.
It’s your connection’s upload rate that matters the most.
When you create content and you want to share it online, it’s your connection’s upload rate that matters the most. It’s the same as the download rate; it just works the other way around, showing how many bits of data you can share per second. It’s also expressed in megabits per second (Mbps). Data shows that, globally, upload rates are lower than download rates.
What is a good upload speed for streaming?
Streaming live video can take up a lot of bandwidth. Just how much will depend on a lot of factors. Encoding matters, but so does the type of content you want to stream. Platforms play a part, just like the resolution and the frame rate of your stream.
But let’s start talking about the numbers. Say you want to live stream a video of yourself interviewing someone. You’re choosing between Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and Twitch. Since all the platforms support live streaming of 720p video, we’ll use the bitrate recommendations from each platform:
- Facebook Live recommends a max bitrate of 4,000 kbps, plus a max audio bitrate of 128 kbps.
- YouTube Live recommends a range between 1,500 and 4,000 kbps for video, plus 128 kbps for audio.
- Twitch recommends a range between 2,500 and 4,000 kbps for video, plus up to 160 kbps for audio.
So, if you’re streaming live video at a resolution of 720p, at 30 frames per second, you will upload up to 4,160 kilobits of data per second. So having an upload bandwidth of around 4 Mbps should cover you, right?
Not quite right. You will need to upload up to 4,160 kilobits of data per second constantly. Because these speeds fluctuate, it’s generally a good idea to have a 35% to 40% buffer. That puts us at an upload rate of around 5,700 kilobits per second, or 5.7 Mbps. However, if you are sure your internet connection is stable, such a buffer might not be needed. Remember, a stable connection is as important as an upload speed!
But that shouldn’t be the declared bandwidth your ISP is delivering to you. For various reasons, the declared upload bandwidth of your connection and the actual upload speed you can achieve can be very different. That’s why you should always test your upload speed to get a more realistic view. The number you get from these tests should be up to 5.7 Mbps if you want to stream 720p video.
The many variables affecting upload speed requirements
The 5.7 Mbps upload speed for 720p video at 30 frames per second is the upper limit. You can still live stream 720p video with a lower upload speed. If the whole video is a single shot of you talking about something, 4,000 kbps might be too high of a bitrate. You would probably be fine with reducing it by half.
If, on the other hand, you want to stream video games or events with plenty of visual information, 4,000 kbps is called for. The faster the pace of the visuals, the higher your bitrate should be. That’s how the type of content affects what a good upload speed is for you.
Let’s stay in the realm of video games. If you’re streaming games with fast-paced action, you should ensure your viewers see what’s going on as clearly as possible. You might want to stream at more than 30 frames per second.
More frames per second means a higher bitrate. For Twitch, it pushes the range for 720p video to between 3,500 and 5,000 kbps. YouTube Live recommends 2,250 to 6,000 Kbps. That’s a 6.2 Mbps upload speed for Twitch, and 7.4 Mbps for YouTube Live if you want to stream 720p video at 60 frames per second. Keep in mind, these are just the highest optimal values.
A good upload speed for your live streaming will vary from one platform to another.
On Facebook, starters can only stream up to 720p video for now, so there’s no need to have more than 5 Mbps. In order to live stream full HD videos, you need to apply for their Level Up affiliate program.
Twitch supports up to 1080p video at 60 frames per second. You’ll need an upload speed of up to 7.4 Mbps for it.
And YouTube? Well, YouTube Live supports 4k live streaming at 60 frames per second. It recommends a bitrate in the range between 20,000 and 51,000 kbps. You’d need an upload speed of 68.8 Mbps to pull that off. That’s just below the average upload speed on Rhode Island, the state with the highest average upload speed in the United States.
Finally, your competitors might affect your upload speed requirements. Twitch and YouTube are crowded with people trying to use them to make money. If you’re doing it too, you cannot afford to fall behind in terms of video quality. Better quality requires higher upload speeds, so the competition will eventually push you to increase your upload rate.
What upload speeds should I be aiming for?
With all these variables in mind, one thing becomes clear – you shouldn’t be asking about what a “good” upload speed is. Instead, it might be better to ask which speed you should be aiming for in your circumstances.
Let’s see which bitrates and the corresponding upload rates the three major streaming platforms advise streamers to use. We’ll segment by platform, resolution, and frames per second, where applicable.
For Facebook Live:
- The platform provides the recommended max bitrate of 4,000 kbps for video. For audio, it recommends up to 128 kbps. The maximum resolution is 1080p, with 60 frames reproduced per second. In total, aim at an upload speed of 6 to 7 Mbps.
- For 720p video at 30 or 60 frames per second, the platform recommends having an upload speed of roughly 3 to 4 Mbps.
- For 720p video at 30 frames per second, a bitrate between 2,500 and 4,000 kbps would do. That translates to upload speeds between 3.2 Mbps and around 5 Mbps.
- For 720p video at 60 frames per second, the bitrate should be between 3,500 and 5,000 kbps. In terms of upload speeds, that means between 4.4 Mbps and 6.2 Mbps.
- For 1080p video at 30 frames per second, the bitrate should be 3,500 to 5,000 kbps – same as for 720p video at 60 fps. The upload speeds are the same too, between 4.4 Mbps and 6.2 Mbps.
- For 1080p video at 60 frames per second, the recommended bitrate is between 4500 and 6000 kbps. That’s a speed between 5.6 Mbps and 7.4 Mbps.
- For 720p video at 30 frames per second, the range is 1,500 to 4,000 kbps. That’s a speed between roughly 2 Mbps and 5 Mbps.
- For 720p video at 60 frames per second, the range is 2,250 to 6,000 kbps. Speed-wise, that’s between 2.9 Mbps and 7.4 Mbps.
- For 1080p video at 30 frames per second, the bitrate range is 3,000 to 6,000 kbps. That translates into speeds between 3.8 Mbps and 7.4 Mbps.
- For 1080p video at 60 frames per second, the bitrate range is 4,500 to 9,000 kbps. In upload speeds, that means between 5.6 Mbps and 11 Mbps.
- For 1440p video at 30 frames per second, the bitrate range is 6,000 to 13,000 kbps. That’s between 7.4 Mbps and 15.8 Mbps in recommended upload speeds.
- For 1440p video at 60 frames per second, the range is 9,000 to 18,000 kbps. In upload speeds, that’s between 11 Mbps and 21.8 Mbps.
- If you really want to live stream 4k video, doing it at 30 frames per second will require you to upload between 13,000 and 34,000 kbps. In terms of speed, that’s 15.8 Mbps and 41 Mbps.
- To stream 4k video at 60 frames per second, the recommended bitrate range is 20,000 to 51,000 kbps. You’ll need an upload speed between 24.2 Mbps and around 61.5 Mbps.
As you can see, YouTube is the place to go for the highest-quality live streaming. Facebook seems to be the most accessible, while Twitch is still the gamer’s haven.
How to get a good upload speed for streaming
Calculating the desired upload speed is one thing, but ensuring you have access to it is something completely different. The problem is that getting access might be harder than you think.
The upload speed you can achieve depends on the service packages your ISP offers. For residential users, the download speed will always be higher than the upload speed. The best way to get symmetry is to sign up for a business-level service if possible. It will guarantee you the declared upload speed at any time. This, in turn, provides stability and reliability to ensure smooth live streams.
In terms of sheer speed, the good news is that internet connections are becoming faster across the board. Technologies such as optic fiber internet are bringing higher speeds to your workplace or home — at least they are if someone is offering them in your area.
So step number one in your chase for a good upload speed for streaming is to switch to an ISP that offers the speed you need. Be prepared to pay more for more speed, though. Also, make sure you ask around about the quality of their service.
If you’re stuck with a provider that offers suboptimal speeds, you can still do a couple of things to improve your situation:
- Get a wired connection. Your WiFi might be great when it comes to watching YouTube videos on your smartphone or checking social media. But when live streaming, you want to have a wired connection. It gives you less interference and more stability, which leads to better stream quality.
- Remove excess devices from your network. You don’t want your internet connection to be crowded when you start streaming. Don’t let any other device hog your upload speed.
- Close excess programs and apps on your computer. The only thing that should be uploading when you stream is your encoder. Peer-to-peer networking has probably ruined its fair share of live streams, so wait until you’re off the air.
- Use cloud-based multistreaming. Multistreaming, or streaming live to several platforms at the same time, is incredibly useful for content creators. It helps reach new audiences, saves time, and offers great tools from various platforms. Unfortunately, it can also be incredibly demanding on your CPU and bandwidth. To deal with it, use a cloud-based multistreaming service to bear some of that load.
- Remove malware; use ad blockers and privacy tools. Malware, ads, and online tracking can use up some of your upload bandwidth. Remove, stop, or block any of these speed-leeching undesired programs.
- Use up-to-date software and hardware. Old drivers can slow your computer down. Old modems can bottleneck your upload speed. Make sure your hardware and software are up to the task of streaming live video.
As a live video streamer, the quality of your content will depend on the quality of your broadcast. That’s a fact. You can have the best skills in the most popular games, or the best banter, or the greatest sense of humor. But if people can’t see and hear you well, you’re just a person sitting in front of a camera.
Upload speeds can significantly affect the quality of your broadcasts. That’s why it’s important to use a connection with enough upload speed for the type of content you broadcast.
Still, you shouldn’t go for the highest possible upload speed by default. You only need it if you’re planning to stream at a very high bitrate. Remember, a good upload speed is the one that’s appropriate for your goals.