When it Comes to Broadband, the U.S. Has Work to Do, Report Says

Though a lot of noise is being made about deployments here and there, that’s not enough to move the U.S. needle.

by / April 13, 2015

When it comes to broadband deployments worldwide, the United States still ranks high, but not as high as it used to, according to a new report.

“Other countries have been improving faster than we have,” said David Belson, editor of the  Fourth Quarter 2014 State of the Internet Report from Akamai Technologies. “The challenge is we have areas of high population density, but also lots of rural areas where it’s harder to deliver broadband. Also, in some areas there is not a lot of competition. There is a lot of noise being made about deployments here and there. And that’s good news, but it’s really fits and starts, and right now that’s not enough to move the U.S. needle.”

Based on data gathered from the Akamai Intelligent Platform, the report provides insight into key global statistics such as connection speeds and broadband adoption across fixed and mobile networks, overall attack traffic, global 4K readiness, and IPv4 exhaustion and IPv6 implementation.

According to the report, the average connection speed globally remained above the 4 Mbps “broadband” threshold for the third consecutive quarter, increasing a nominal 0.7 percent to 4.5 Mbps. Quarterly global average connection speed changes were mixed across the top 10 countries/regions, with six seeing increases, three seeing decreases and Switzerland (14.5 Mbps) remaining unchanged. Among the regions/countries where average connection speeds grew quarter-over-quarter, the largest increase was seen in Sweden (14.6 Mbps), with a modest 3.5 percent gain.

The global average peak connection speed increased slightly in the fourth quarter by 8.4 percent to 26.9 Mbps. Hong Kong again had the highest average peak connection speed at 87.7 Mbps, but all of the top 10 saw average peak speeds greater than 60 Mbps. The U.S. does not make this list.

“The northern European region and a number of the Asian countries have always been seen as leaders when it comes to broadband deployment and adoption,” said Belson. “Often, they have higher population densities, which makes it easier to deploy broadband. The leaders really strike a balance between affordability and availability – in many cases, they also have government policies or government support for moving broadband forward.”

Global high broadband (>10 Mbps) adoption rates increased 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter, after a slight decline in the third quarter. South Korea's 79 percent high broadband adoption rate remained far ahead of second-place Hong Kong with a 60 percent adoption rate.

The global broadband (>4 Mbps) adoption rate decreased slightly in the fourth quarter, losing 0.7 percent to 59 percent adoption. Of the 104 countries/regions that qualified for inclusion for this metric, 76 saw quarterly growth in broadband adoption rates. Bulgaria had the highest level of broadband adoption in the fourth quarter at 96 percent, just edging out last quarter's leader South Korea, which experienced a 0.1 percent decline in its adoption rate. The U.S. does not make either list.

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“By and large we have seen strong growth in broadband adoption and connection speeds over time in most of the major geographies,” said Belson. “Some are accelerating faster than others. But things have generally been moving in the right direction over the last seven years that we’ve been doing the report.”

Belson said Uruguay was among the global standouts when it came to significant gains in broadband deployment and adoption.

“Uruguay has seen tremendous growth and I think it’s because they have been making investments in their national broadband for a while now,” he said. “I think they are finally starting to see the payoff of bringing more connectivity to a wider percentage of the population there.”

Belson said in many cases, the leading countries also have very competitive broadband environments -- another place the U.S. often falls short. He points to Google Fiber as a potential game-changer.

“Whether or not Google Fiber is a real, long-term business for Google is unclear at this point,” he said. “But if nothing else, they have woken up the incumbents and gotten them to start moving again, which is a good thing for everybody.”

Belson said a few other factors, like the misconception among some that everyone needs gigabit connectivity now and battles over municipal broadband in various parts of the country, are making it hard for the U.S. to move forward as a whole in a truly meaningful way.

“Not everyone needs gigabit connectivity. Just making progress with getting people online with solid and reliable connectivity is a great place to start, and a great place to make progress from,” he said. “Then we can start worrying about bringing gigabit connectivity to everyone.”

Other highlights from Akamai's Fourth Quarter 2014 State of the Internet Report include:

4K Readiness: Candidate geographies that are most likely to sustain connection speeds above 15 Mbps inlcude 55 countries/regions, and 12 percent of the global connections were at or above the 15 Mbps threshold. While quarter-over-quarter readiness increased by only 0.6 percent, it grew year-over-year by 37 percent. South Korea remained the country at the highest level of 4K readiness.

Mobile Connectivity: As seen in previous reports, average peak mobile connection speeds again spanned an extremely broad range in the fourth quarter, from 157.3 Mbps in Singapore down to 7.5 Mbps in Argentina. Japan (116.3 Mbps) and Australia (129.9 Mbps) were the only two countries in addition to Singapore to see average peak speeds above 100 Mbps, and only Turkey (69.1 Mbps) and the United Kingdom (61.8 Mbps) had speeds above 50 Mbps.

For additional information on the metrics in the report and how they are analyzed, please visit http://akamai.me/sotimetrics.

Justine Brown Contributing Writer