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State of the Internet Metrics: What Do They Mean?

Nearly two years ago, we published a blog post titled "Clarifying State of the Internet Report Metrics", and it has served as a great reference for those interested in finding out more about the metrics published within the State of the Internet Report. However, as the report has evolved over the last several years, we thought it would be worth publishing an update to clarify existing metrics and review new ones, with the goal of minimizing confusion about, or misinterpretation of, terms and/or data within the report.

As we have discussed in the past, there are several sources of broadband speed data, including measurements collected by the United States Federal Communications Commission (Measuring Broadband America), Ookla (SpeedTest/NetIndex), SamKnows, Netflix, and others. As these, and Akamai's, measurements all make use of different methodologies, sample sizes, and user populations, they are all measuring slightly different things, though they may all use similar terminology. To that end, there is not necessarily any one right or wrong set of data - each is right in its own way, considering the associated biases of the measurements.

The measurements published in the quarterly State of the Internet Report are taken from requests made to Akamai's HTTP/S platform. (Over the course of a quarter, we're analyzing between 100-200 Trillion content requests from over 200 countries/regions around the world.) To be completely clear, none of the data in the report comes from Akamai's native streaming networks (Adobe Flash, Apple QuickTime, and Microsoft Windows Media). As such, any third-party assertions that the connection speed measurements published in the report are skewed lower by "rate-limited streaming" are incorrect - connections to our streaming servers are not part of the underlying data set used for the report, and Akamai does not throttle connections to our HTTP/S platform. Adaptive bitrate streams are, however, delivered by Akamai's HTTP/S platform, but since they are delivered in a "chunked" fashion, they simply appear as a number of requests for content over HTTP/S. From a State of the Internet perspective, we're treating the delivery of video (adaptive bitrate streaming or progressive download) the same as any other piece of content we deliver via HTTP/S, like JavaScript, HTML pages, or software updates. Note that unless otherwise specified, the measurements within the State of the Internet Report have historically been based on data gathered from requests made over IPv4 connections. Including data on key metrics from IPv6 connections is on the 2015 roadmap for the report.

Within the report, data is aggregated and presented at country/region and U.S. state levels - the geolocation of each unique IP address is done with Akamai's EdgeScape solution. This data encompasses connections from both residential and business connections, and as such, represents a blend of the observed connection speeds. (It is important to note that the report has never claimed to measure only residential traffic.) Having said that, we believe that the number of residential connections to Akamai's platform greatly outnumbers the number of business connections, so the potential skew caused by higher speed business connections should be minimized. In addition, as noted within the report, we endeavor to remove connections from known mobile networks from the underlying data set, so as to mitigate the potential skew caused by slower mobile connections. (Although as mobile providers and subscribers shift to 4G LTE, mobile connection speeds are rapidly increasing.)

Below, we look at each of the individual connectivity metrics featured within the report in more detail:

    • Average Connection Speed: As noted previously, this metric is calculated by taking an average of all of the connection speeds calculated during the quarter from the unique IP addresses (IPv4 addresses unless otherwise noted) determined to be in a specific country/region or U.S. state. There are, however, a number of factors that can influence the average connection speed measurement:
  • Parallel Requests: According to the latest figures (1/15/2015) available from the HTTPArchive project, the average Web page requires 94 requests for content. As such, a browser will likely open multiple connections to Akamai for various pieces of content, such as the base HTML page, a shared JavaScript, a CSS file, embedded images, or one or more advertisements. Given that these requests are all competing for a limited resource (the Internet connection's bandwidth), each of these requests gets just a fraction of the overall resource, ultimately lowering the observed speed associated with each request. (While these requests may be sent over a single persistent connection from a browser to an Akamai server, they are each logged individually by Akamai.)
  • Smaller Files: The connections used to download smaller files (relative to larger software downloads and media files) may be short-lived enough that they do not reach maximum throughput rates. (Think of it as being similar to driving on multiple short trips around your neighborhood on local roads vs. going on a multi-state road trip on the highway.)
  • IP Address Sharing: In this increasingly hyperconnected world, a single user may have multiple Internet-connected devices, and an average household today certainly does, from smartphones, tablets, televisions, and gaming systems to thermostats and other connected devices. If multiple devices behind a single Internet connection (unique IP address) are all consuming content simultaneously, then as highlighted above, each device will ultimately have access to just a fraction of the whole connection, ultimately lowering the overall speed calculated for each request to Akamai. (Obviously, this is also true on a much larger scale for business connections, where requests from hundreds of users may appear to be coming from a single gateway IP address.)
  • Average Peak Connection Speed: As noted previously, 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/region or U.S. state. Within the 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. While these measurements are closer to the theoretical maximum capacity of the user's Internet connection, they are unlikely to be representative of true throughput during "normal" usage conditions. Furthermore, presenting an average will also mitigate the impact of the extremes - while there may be users connecting at Gigabit speeds in a given country, there will also be users connecting at dial-up, satellite, or DSL speeds.
  • High Broadband Connectivity: This metric represents the percentage of unique IP addresses making connections to Akamai from a given country/region or U.S. state with an average connection speed of 10 Mbps or above. In order to "qualify" for inclusion in the global rankings within the quarterly report, more than 25,000 unique IP addresses from a given country/region needed to have average connection speeds above 10 Mbps in that quarter.
  • Broadband Connectivity: This metric represents the percentage of unique IP addresses making connections to Akamai from a given country/region or U.S. state with an average connection speed of 4 Mbps or above. In order to "qualify" for inclusion in the global rankings within the quarterly report, more than 25,000 unique IP addresses from a given country/region needed to have average connection speeds above 4 Mbps in that quarter.
  • 4K Readiness: This metric represents the percentage of unique IP addresses making connections to Akamai from a given country/region or U.S. state with an average connection speed of 15 Mbps or above. There is still some debate as to the amount of bandwidth required for 4K adaptive bitrate streams, but many estimates fall somewhere between 10-20 Mbps, depending on the codec used. Given that, we felt that choosing a 15 Mbps threshold would provide the best insight into the percentage of unique IP addresses connecting to Akamai from within a given country or U.S. state that are most likely to be able to sustain such streams within this range. Note that there is not a 1:1 equivalence between unique IP addresses and end users or broadband subscribers, so leveraging this statistic to claim that "X% of end users/broadband subscribers can consume 4K video" is technically inaccurate. (As noted above, multiple users can share a single IP address, which is especially true of home broadband subscribers. In addition, a broadband subscriber may be assigned multiple unique IP addresses over the course of a single quarter.) In order to "qualify" for inclusion in the global rankings within the quarterly report, more than 25,000 unique IP addresses from a given country/region needed to have average connection speeds above 15 Mbps in that quarter.
  • Mobile: Within this section of the State of the Internet Report, we include data on average and average peak connection speeds, as well as broadband connectivity, for connections from IP addresses determined to be on mobile networks, aggregated at a country/region level. Starting with the First Quarter, 2014 State of the Internet Report, we shifted from using a manually maintained list of autonomous systems (AS) where we believed that the entire AS was used for mobile traffic, to a system informed by mobile device identification data. In this new system, Akamai identifies device characteristics at the edge of the network, and if a certain percentage of devices used to connect from a given network block are known to be mobile devices, then that network block is designated as "mobile". However, this change resulted in a significant increase in the number of networks classified as mobile, to the point where it would have been unwieldy to include within the report, so we decided to aggregate the data at a country level, as is done in other sections of the report. In order to "qualify" for inclusion in the global rankings within the quarterly report, more than 25,000 unique IP addresses from a given country/region needed to make requests to Akamai from mobile networks during the quarter.

Ultimately, the speeds an end user sees at any given point in time on either a "fixed" (fiber, cable, DSL, dial-up) or "mobile" connection will likely be somewhere between the average and average peak connection speeds, but could be a bit faster or slower, depending on multiple factors.

While Akamai does not publish data within the report at a network level, our network partners can check metrics for their Autonomous Systems (ASes) on the Akamai Network Partner Portal. If you're looking for data about a specific country that's not featured in either the global section or one of the regional sections of the report, check the Appendix, as it contains metrics for a larger set of countries. In addition, we also suggest that you check the two data visualizations available on the State of the Internet web site -- one displays metric values from the current quarter's report using a map-based interface, while the other enables users to graph historical values of key report metrics for the top 100 countries and all U.S. states. Beyond that, as we note in each issue of the report, if you are interested in data that you can't find within the report, or if you have a question about something published within the report, please reach out to us via e-mail , via Twitter (@akamai_soti), or on the Akamai Community State of the Internet Subspace .

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