Google announced this week that Google Fiber, a broadband and television service that delivers 1 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) speeds to a select number of cities in the U.S., is looking to expand to two more cities in California and one in Kentucky. The expansion represents a big step for the U.S. in terms of upping its internet speeds — something the U.S. has continually been made fun of for considering the mecca that is Silicon Valley and the amount of homebred innovation.
In its State of the Internet Report published in June of this year, Akamai noted that global average connection speeds rose 10% year-over-year to 5 Mbps in Q1 2015. Despite that increase, less than 5% of users have broadband speeds of at least 25 Mbps. The firm found 134 countries experienced an increase in average connection speeds year-over-year, ranging from 4% in Japan to 181% in Fiji. The U.S. does not rank among the top 10 countries with the highest average connection speeds. (See the chart below from Akamai.)
Research from Deloitte indicates that average broadband speeds in most markets should increase this year by between 15 and 25%. Yet, that average “obscures significant differences between households,” according to the group. Deloitte notes that in many markets the “top decile of homes are likely to enjoy 10 times or greater the average speed of those in the bottom decile.” And countries with ubiquitous fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) — what Google’s Fiber service is defined as — are likely to have the most consistent broadband speeds.
There are many factors that contribute to accessibility and web speeds: the actual technology itself, for one. Some connections are faster, yet are only able to function over short distances, making speedier internet less plausible for regions like rural ones with houses rooted miles apart from each other and/or the exchange. There, distance becomes another factor. And affordability goes without saying as a roadblock for faster web speeds.
In Africa, the disparities in web penetration, usage, and speed vary greatly. While internet access in general is growing steadily in most sections of the continent, many countries are still focusing on adoption in general — looking to remedy connectivity problems and basic infrastructure needs — rather than focusing on how fast the web is. South Africa, Morocco, and Egypt have some of the greatest penetration rates. Kenya leads the Subsaharan pack. But countries like Mali have struggled intensely because of some of the aforementioned obstacles, and here, speed matters. With expensive rates for web connections, users often end up paying for speeds that are so sub-par, much of the internet becomes inaccessible because they can’t stream videos or load certain sites and services like email.
In countries that don’t have to worry about basic connections anymore, like South Africa, the struggle has evolved into a spectrum-based one — something countries like the U.S. and most in Europe wrestle with each year as telcos vie for valuable waves. And compared to Mali, these countries’ web speeds are luxurious. Germany, for example, announced this week that it plans to advance with its high speed broadband connection across the entire country, committing to provide a standard 50Mbps its population by 2018 — a connection that would be 10 times faster than today’s global standard.
So, the speed gap continues to grow, but if reports like Akamai’s are anything to abide by, it is heartening to find the global average speed slowly but surely increasing. While we can’t all live in South Korea, higher-speed connections are indeed a priority for most global markets, and will likely continue to improve speeds for the foreseeable future.