Are Upload Speeds the New Broadband Selling Point?

verizonlogoVerizon (s VZ) today boosted its upload speeds across its FiOS fiber-to-the-home broadband packages, which leads me to wonder if upload speeds are the new download speeds in a saturated market for broadband. Om and I both have complained about anemic upload speeds, which are becoming more of a handicap in today’s world of video uploads and online backup. Given Verizon’s history as an innovator in broadband (spending $23 million billion on fiber is a bold move), and a renewed package of incentives out today to drive subscription rates (you get a netbook or a Flip camcorder with a triple-play subscription), upstream speeds may get more competitive. From a Verizon blog post today touting the changes:

We think broadband isn’t really fast unless it’s two-way fast, and we’re amping up speeds in both directions for our most popular FiOS Internet services. We’re also offering incentives for consumers to switch to FiOS.

We’re raising the speed of our entry-level FiOS Internet service from 10/2 Mbps to 15/5 Mbps, and we’re raising the speed of our flagship, mid-tier offering from 20/5 Mbps to 25/15 Mbps. In downstate New York, FiOS Internet is even faster with a new entry-level speed of 25/15 Mbps and a new mid-tier offering of 35/20 Mbps available in bundles.

Cable providers, because of limited spectrum allocated for upstream, may have difficulty matching such boosts, making upstream speed a prime candidate for differentiation between cable and telecommunications providers — or perhaps merely between those communication providers that offer fiber-to-the-home. Companies, such as AT&T (s T), which provide fiber to the node can offer symmetrical  upstream speeds but both upstream and downstream speeds are limited by how far away a customer’s home may be from the node. For example, AT&T currently offers downstream speeds of 18 Mbps in some areas, but upstream peaks at 1.5 Mbps.

Right now, the vast majority of consumers don’t bump up against upstream limits often, but if service providers really want to get people excited about faster download packages ,they’re going to need to deliver services such as home security applications and video conferencing that require both fast downstream and upstream speeds. Only then will average consumers see the need to upgrade to $100, 50 Mbps broadband packages. But at that point, they’re also going to notice if their provider is sucking up their content with the equivalent of a cocktail straw while delivering downloads with a fire hose. Then Verizon’s upgrades will look prescient, kind of like its investment in fiber-to-the-home does today.