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Gigabits to kilobits

Last week, United States FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a "Gigabit City Challenge", calling for at least one gigabit community in all 50 states by 2015.  The FCC's announcement of the challenge cited several existing gigabit programs, including a municipal initiative in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Google Fiber initiative in Kansas City, and Gig.U's initiatives to build ultra-high-speed hubs in the communities of many leading research universities.  Why the need for speed?  Consistent with past discussions around the benefits of high-speed connectivity, the Chairman noted, "The U.S. needs a critical mass of gigabit communities nationwide so that innovators can develop next-generation applications and services that will drive economic growth and global competitiveness." He added, "Networks cease to be hurdles to applications, so it no longer matters whether medical data, high-definition video, or online services are in the same building or miles away across the state."
While more widely available gigabit connectivity is a laudable goal, the reality is that Internet connectivity in the United States still has quite a way to go in order to reach that level.  According to data from Akamai's Third Quarter, 2012 State of the Internet Report, published today, the average connection speed in the United States for the third quarter of 2012 was 7.2 Mbps, and the average peak connection speed was just under 30 Mbps.  (The average connection speed metric reflects the average of all calculated connection speeds from IP addresses that geolocate to the United States.  The average peak connection speed metric reflects the average of only the fastest calculated connection speeds from each IP address that geolocates to the United States, and is considered to be more representative of Internet connection capacity.)  As shown below in Figures 9 and 10 from the third quarter report, the United States remains behind a number of Asian and European countries that have historically had rather strong average and average peak connection speeds, owing in part to active gigabit connectivity initiatives.  However, the United States also posted solid quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year growth for both metrics, a trend that has generally held over the last five years.  According to the data visualization graphing tool available at http://www.akamai.com/stateoftheinternet/, since the third quarter of 2007, the average connection speed in the United States has grown from just under 4 Mbps, while the average peak connection speed has grown from just under 10 Mbps.

While gigabit connectivity remains a challenge in the United States, access to basic high-speed (broadband) Internet connectivity has historically been an even greater challenge in Cuba.  In the third quarter of 2012, the island nation saw an average connection speed of just 164 kbps, and an average peak connection speed of 4971 kbps, with just 5668 unique IPv4 addresses connecting to Akamai.  However, the speed and quality of Internet connectivity to Cuba may be poised to change for the better, as it appears that the ALBA-1 submarine cable between Venezuela and Cuba may finally be supplanting satellite usage for Internet connectivity to and from the island.  The cable project was six years in the making, first announced in 2007, and initially slated for completion in 2009.  Last week, traceroutes into Cuba started to show lower latencies, as well as new paths, leading to speculation that the cable was in use, if only unidirectionally for inbound traffic.  However, on January 22, further changes were observed that suggest that use of the ALBA-1 cable has become more widespread, with the cable becoming the default path for outbound traffic as well.  If the cable does become the primary mechanism for Cuba's international Internet connectivity, then we may see the country's average and average peak connection speeds increase in the future, though those increases will also require improved access to Internet connectivity within the country, a situation that is reportedly lacking.

[[UPDATE 01/24/2013: It appears that Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA (ETECSA) has issued a statement noting (when translated) that 'ALBA 1 submarine cable is operating. ETECSA will begin testing Internet traffic.']]

Although physically separated by only about 90 miles, the gap between the connection speeds in the United States and Cuba is, in comparison, figuratively much larger, as is the gap in access to Internet connectivity within the countries.  Within these extremes, however, lie many other countries around the world.  The Third Quarter, 2012 State of the Internet Report provides insight into Internet connectivity, connection speeds, and other metrics across these countries, and the data visualization tools on the State of the Internet page provide insight into how these metrics have trended over time.  Additionally, infographics for the Americas, EMEA, and APAC regions highlight connection speed and mobile metrics for countries within the region for the third quarter of 2012.

David Belson (@dbelson) is the Product Line Director for Custom Analytics & MCDN at Akamai.