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Historical Lookback: Connectivity Trends

Over the last few years, we have included a "Historical Lookback" section at the end of the 4th Quarter issues of the State of the Internet Report. The section has generally included data aggregated at a continental level (where appropriate), with graphs showing how particular metrics have trended over time.  This year, we are publishing the the historical lookback content as a series of blog posts, including interactive graphs that can be zoomed, customized, and saved.  Today's post will cover connectivity trends, including connection speeds and broadband adoption from 2008-2013, while posts over the next two days will cover trends in IPv6 Traffic and IPv4 Exhaustion, as well as Observed Attack Traffic.  (And don't forget that you can download the full 4th Quarter report, or any of the prior issues, from http://www.akamai.com/stateoftheinternet, or read them in the State of the Internet iOS app.)
The graphs included in the Historical Lookback series of posts can be customized in a couple of different ways.  Clicking and dragging across several quarters in the graph will cause the view to zoom in to show just those quarters.  Clicking the 'Reset Zoom' button will show the full graph again.  Clicking on the continent names in the legend (the box on the right side of the graph) will remove the selected continents from the graph, and the view will resize dynamically.  Clicking again will return the plotted lines for the selected continents to the graph.  Finally, clicking the arrow button in the upper right corner allows provides options to save the graph, including customizations if applied, in several different formats.

In addition, while the graphs below are aggregated a continent level, data and graphs at a country level are available in the State of the Internet Visualization Tool.

Average Connection Speeds
As was explained in a previous blog post, this metric is calculated by taking an average of all of the connection speeds calculated during the quarter from the unique IP addresses determined to be in a specific country or U.S. state. There are, however, a number of factors that can influence the average connection speed measurement, including small files, parallel requests, and IP address sharing.  Average connection speeds, aggregated at a continent level, all saw respectable growth over the last six years.  However, as the graph shows, speeds grew more aggressively in some regions than they did in others.  The most aggressive growth rates were seen in South America and Oceania, which both grew 167% from January 2008 to January 2014.  Europe and North America followed close behind with 140% growth during the period, while Africa grew 110%, though it still has an average connection speed at a continental level below 2 Mbps.  Perennial connectivity stronghold Asia actually saw the lowest increase, growing just 30%.  Although Asia has a number of countries with higher average connection speeds (like Japan & South Korea), it also has several at the lower end (including China and India.) 

While some short-term declines on a monthly or quarterly basis may be evident in the graphs, the long-term view across all continents is positive, which is the most important thing.

Average Peak Connection Speeds
To calculate this metric, an average is taken of only the highest connection speed calculated from each unique IP address determined to be in a specific country or U.S. state.  Within the State of the Internet Report, we note that we believe that the average peak connection speed is more representative of Internet connection capacity.  By using the fastest measurement observed from each unique IP address, we are capturing just those connections that reached maximum throughput rates.  Often, though not always, these connections are associated with the download of larger files, such as desktop applications, games, or software updates.

Extremely strong growth in average peak connection speeds was seen in Oceania, which was up 450% over the last six years, while average peak connection speed growth in South America was nearly as strong, up 420%.  However, it is worth noting that despite the aggressive growth, the aggregate speed in South America was just over half that of Oceania's.  Average peak connection speeds in Europe and North America had very similar trajectories (easy to see if the graph is isolated to just those two continents), with Europe growing 340% and North America increasing 300%.  Africa started 2008 with the same average peak connection speed as South America (3.3 Mbps), but had a lower growth rate over the last six years, improving only 220%.  Despite having three or four countries atop the average peak connection speed rankings each quarter, Asia saw the lowest level of long-term growth over the last six years, growing just 150%.  Because those top countries are, as noted above, balanced by a number of slower ones, Asia's ending average peak was in the middle of the back, even though it started out as the fastest.

Although investment in improved broadband connectivity, as well as improvements in availability and affordability, vary from region to region, the strong improvements seen over time for this metric highlight that progress is, in fact, being made, with faster connections becoming more widely available around the world.

(Readers will note that the graph shows 'blips' across each continent in July 2009, as well as one in Oceania in January 2012.  These are due to issues in the archived data that was aggregated to produce these graphs.) 

High Broadband Adoption
This metric represents the percentage of connections to the Akamai platform, from a given country or U.S. state within a given quarter, which connected at speeds of 10 Mbps or more.  As shown in the graph, Asia started 2008 with a high broadband adoption rate nearly 4x that of North America's and 6x Europe's adoption rates, but after six years, it was surpassed by both.  North America's high broadband adoption rate really took off in early 2012, allowing it to grow over 760% over the last six years, while Europe's growth was even more aggressive during the period, as it improved 800%.  The graph shows that Asia's high broadband adoption rate experienced some awkward cyclical fits, and it was ultimately up only 30% in aggregate during the six year period.  However, its neighbor to the South had the most significant improvement seen in any region, as Oceania grew over 1000%, with a significant amount of the growth seen in the latter half of 2013.  Finally, isolating the graph to show just Africa and South America highlights that both continents have struggled to see meaningful increases in high broadband adoption over the last six years.  Both started out close to zero (0.1% and 0.2% adoption respectively), and both ended the period with adoption rates still well under 1%.  This isn't tremendously surprising, though, as both countries have average connection speeds in the 2 Mbps range (one just above, one just below), as can be seen in the graph above.

While South Korea has historically had the highest high broadband adoption rate, significantly ahead of other countries, that alone was insufficient to enable the continent to maintain global leadership for the metric.  However, it is worth highlighting that it took North America approximately four years to surpass it, and five years for Europe, indicating that adoption of higher speed connections has really kicked into high gear over the last two years.

Broadband Adoption
The broadband adoption metric represents the percentage of connections to the Akamai platform, from a given country or U.S. state within a given quarter, which connected at speeds of 4 Mbps or more.  Similar to the high broadband metric, Asia started out with the highest broadband adoption rate (approximately 10% higher than North America's), but over the last six years, it was surpassed by North America, Europe, and Oceania.  North America pulled ahead within the first year, while it took Europe about two and a half years, and Oceania just over four years.  Although it started out well below North America, Europe's broadband adoption rate has been tracking closely to North America's since mid-2011, ending the six year period approximately 3.5% apart.  Broadband adoption in Africa has seen nominal growth over time, increasing around 30% over the period, almost doubling over the last two years, after seeing four years of gradual decline.  Despite starting out with the lowest broadband adoption rate (under 1%) at the start of 2008, South America has seen extremely impressive growth, ending the six year period at just under 16%, for a long-term growth rate of over 1600%.

Although South Africa still has one of the lowest broadband adoption rates aggregated at a continent level, the impact of improving Internet connectivity within the region is clear.  Africa was similarly challenged at the start of 2008, but it clearly still has a long way to go, with only nominal long-term improvement seen at a continent level. Hopefully, innovative programs like Google's Project Loon and Facebook's reported drone initiative, as well as upgrades to key submarine cables serving Africa, will serve to boost broadband adoption rates going forward.