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Nine Years of Better Broadband

One of the questions I am frequently asked about the State of the Internet is how things are changing - what are the trends we see in the data? As we've just closed out the ninth year of publication of the Connectivity report, I thought that it would be a good time to take look back and see just how much better things have gotten since the initial report, which covered the first quarter of 2008.

The graphs below cover the key connection speeds and broadband adoption metrics currently covered within the report, along with a look at connections under 256 kbps - some folks out there are still stuck on dial-up quality connections. For ease of review, we've aggregated the data at a continental level - obviously, that means that the changes seen in a specific country will be lost in the averaging. For more granular insight, similar country-level trending graphs can be built and exported (as can the underlying data) using the State of the Internet graph visualization tool. (And you can always contact us at stateoftheinternet@akamai.com with questions as well.)

Looking at the average connection speed metric, South America saw the greatest improvement over the last nine years, growing its average connection speed nearly 600%, from just under 0.9 Mbps to just over 6.1 Mbps. Oceania (Australia and the proximate islands) saw a 413% increase, while Europe, North America, and Africa all saw nine-year improvements of over 300% as well. Although it started out with an average connection speed just 40 kbps ahead of South America, Africa's average connection speed of 4.6 Mbps currently trails South America's. In aggregate, Asia saw the smallest increase, although it was up 164%. However, the observation isn't all that surprising, since the top 10 countries/regions list has historically included South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan. Unfortunately, the top speeds from those geographies are countered by much slower speeds observed in other Asian countries, causing the continent to trail North America and Europe at the end of 2016 when aggregate average connection speeds are compared.

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As noted in the Fourth Quarter, 2016 State of the Internet Report, due to data issues that affected the quarter's average peak connection speed calculations, they were not included in this issue of the report. As such, the nine-year lookback for this metric only goes through the third quarter of 2016. However, the trends seen to that point would likely have carried through to the fourth quarter as well. South America saw the greatest increase for this connection speed metric as well, posting an increase of over 1000%, growing from just 3.5 Mbps to nearly 40 Mbps. Oceania grew almost 780% to over 57 Mbps, while aggregate average peak connection speeds in Europe and North America grew over 600% in both geographies to over 61 and 72 Mbps respectively. Average connection speeds in African countries grew by over 500% to just over 24 Mbps, while Asian countries/regions grew just under 500% in aggregate, also reaching just over 61 Mbps - about 300 kbps higher than Europe. Again, the lower average peak connection speeds in some Asian countries pull down the overall continental average, balancing those seen in geographies like Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea, which are 15-60 Mbps ahead of the next fastest countries.

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Early in the report's history, it tracked a metric that we called "Narrowband Adoption", which was defined as the percentage of unique IPv4 addresses connecting to Akamai at speeds below 256 kbps. Although FTTx and cable Internet connectivity was commonplace, with deployment, speeds, and subscription rates increasing rapidly, dial-up and lower speed DSL connections were also still common, though on the decline. We removed coverage of narrowband adoption from the report several years back when the "top" countries (those with the lowest adoption rates) all had adoption rates that had declined to the point where there was not much lower that they could go. At the end of 2016, the highest aggregate narrowband adoption rate was seen in Africa at 0.3%, while Europe had the lowest, at under 0.1%. All six continents have seen adoption rates decline by over 98% over the last nine years - in the first quarter of 2008, Africa's was the highest, at over 24%, while Europe had the lowest, at just under 3.2%

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The 4 Mbps broadband adoption metric used to be known simply as "Broadband Adoption", at the time matching the definition of "broadband" as set out by the United States Federal Communications Commission. However, as the FCC changed the definition (to 25 Mbps), we chose to begin referring to the various broadband adoption metrics by their associated speed thresholds. Nine-year growth rates for the 4 Mbps broadband adoption metric vary quite widely across the continents. Starting from an adoption rate of less than 1%, South America has seen adoption increase by over 6,400%. In contrast, aggregate adoption across Asian countries/regions grew by just under 150% over the same period, from 31% to nearly 78%, thanks to historically strong connectivity. Growth across North America was like that seen in Asia, up 189% to just over 86% adoption. With a fourth quarter, 2016 adoption rate just a tenth of a percent higher than North America's, Europe's nine-year increase of nearly 420% represents significant growth from a starting point of nearly 17%. Oceania's adoption rate grew over 580% to nearly 78%, while Africa's adoption rate grew nearly twice as much, up 1,125% to 34% at the end of 2016.

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The 10 Mbps broadband adoption metric was previously referred to as "high broadband" within the State of the Internet Report. Similar to the 4 Mbps metric, the increases seen between 2008-2016 spanned an extremely wide range for this metric as well. South America, Africa, and Oceania all had aggregate 10 Mbps broadband adoption rates below 1% in the first quarter of 2008, and all saw significant increases over the last nine years. South America's adoption rate grew over 13,500% to reach just under 15%, growth of over 9,100% put Africa's aggregate adoption at just under 7%, and Oceania's adoption rate of just over 32% was the result of an increase of over 3,600%. Europe and North America started the measurement period with adoption rates of 1.7% and 3.1% respectively, and aggregate growth across these geographies was significant as well, as they improved over 2,600% (Europe) and over 1,700% (North America). As has been seen across the other metrics, Asian countries/regions had the highest initial aggregate adoption rate, and the lowest overall growth rate, seeing 10 Mbps broadband adoption increase by just over 200% to nearly 35%.

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Initial coverage of the 15 Mbps broadband adoption metric within the State of the Internet Report used the term "4K Readiness", as 15 Mbps was considered the minimum bandwidth necessary to consume 4K media content. In looking at growth of this metric over the last nine years, we find that it was most significant across Africa and South America, with increases of over 9,000% seen in both geographies, as both started with 15 Mbps adoption under a tenth of a percent. Africa's aggregate adoption rate grew to just under 4%, while South America's is just over 5%. The next largest increase was seen in Oceania, where 15 Mbps broadband adoption grew over 3,600% to over 17%. European and North American countries saw aggregate growth rates of over 2,000% since early 2008, with Europe increasing to over 2,800% to nearly 29% adoption, while North America grew over 2,500% to over 37% adoption. As expected, Asia's strong starting point, at nearly 6%, resulted in the lowest overall growth rate over the nine-year period, increasing just over 250% to nearly 21% adoption.

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The 25 Mbps broadband adoption metric is the newest addition to the State of the Internet Report, added after the FCC redefined "broadband" (for the United States, at least) to 25 Mbps. Within the report, we've only been looking at this metric within the Global and United States sections, and not the individual regional sections. However, it's informative to look at how adoption has (or has not) grown in aggregate across the continents over time. Both Africa and South America have seen increases of over 5,000% since early 2008, but as can clearly be seen in the graph, both continents continue to lag by a significant margin - South America's aggregate adoption rate is just under 1%, while Africa's is almost 1.5%. Growth rates on either side of 2,500% were seen in Europe, North America, and Oceania, with the latter reaching almost 6% adoption, while North America was just shy of 15% and Europe over 11%. Asia was the only continent that had a starting aggregate 25 Mbps broadband adoption rate over 1%, and again posted the lowest nine-year increase, growing just over 300% to over 9.3% adoption.

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In addition to tracking the quarterly and yearly changes seen in these key metrics, the State of the Internet Report has also covered broadband efforts at multiple levels, ranging from national broadband plans with speed targets and timelines for implementation, to local plans for bringing fiber-based gigabit connectivity to both large cities and small towns. We'll continue to highlight these initiatives, as they are a key driver behind the significant improvements covered above.

2 Comments

Our world is growing so fast so does the technology. I think we have made some great advancement in this domain. Broadband internet was so slow back in 90's but today things have improved dramatically. The immense development in internet speed and significant improvement in this domain has opened the doors for a new generation of technology.

Good insights of Nine years of Broadband. Loved it.

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