Akamai, a leading content delivery network provider, publishes periodic performance reports that ranks global Internet service by country. Its latest figures put Korea, Japan and Hong Kong at the top of the chart.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. The Akamai numbers show how fast traffic is moving on its network, not how much of it there is. So having, say, super fast connections in gaming centers and clusters of homes with gigabit class connections can skew the rankings.
The top three countries have a high proportion of people living in large apartment blocks concentrated in core urban areas (albeit very big cores – Seoul and Tokyo are immense). Which makes modern fiber deployments relatively cheap on a per household basis. Doesn’t mean the people living in buildings along the route all subscribe, although many do and that pulls average speeds up in Asia.
Despite lower population densities, North America still leads on a per capita consumption basis, and is expected to do so for some years to come, at least according to Cisco’s projections. 50 year old coaxial cables and 100 year old telephone wires are there and are well used, albeit not at gigabit speeds. Compared to world population as a whole – rural and urban – the state of the Internet in North America looks a lot better than many critics believe.
That’s not to advocate relying on ageing plant going forward. As wireline incumbents pull back on rural service, focus capital in “high potential” urban markets and try to exploit monopoly/duopoly positions for as long as possible, North American advantages will quickly fade. It’s no cause for panic, but it’s good justification for independent and broadband investments, public and private, based on realistic and rigorous financial criteria.