As the World Becomes Flat, Our Pipes Get Fat

The overall size of the highways connecting different countries to the Internet, as measured by capacity, has more than doubled in the last two years, according to a research report issued today by Telegeography. The analyst firm’s latest report on bandwidth notes that in the year between July 2008 and July 2009, network operators added 9.4Tbps of new capacity to total almost 25Tbps. That compares with 8.7Tbps of total capacity available as of the middle of 2007.

So from 2007 through 2009 we’ve more than doubled  the international highways available for data traffic to handle the growth in cross-border web traffic. This growth is based on demand from emerging markets for basic broadband, and the overall increase in video streaming and other high-bandwidth applications used around the world. Since 2007, the number of broadband subscribers has risen by nearly 150 million to reach 444.3 million, according to research from the Broadband Forum. And those in developing or third-world countries aren’t content to surf the first-generation web — they’re coming on and using YouTube, social networks and other bandwidth-sucking applications. And network capacity needs to keep up.

International traffic has grown by 79 percent so far in 2009, up from 61 percent in 2008. Growth has been fastest in emerging markets, such as Eastern Europe, South Asia and the Middle East, according to Telegeography, with traffic in each of these regions rising over 100 percent so far this year. Even North America is pushing demand with peak traffic volumes on international links connected to the U.S. and Canada up 59 percent so far this year.

Many assumed that as use of the web grew in various countries, content would be delivered locally through caching and locally hosted sites, but even as that occurs, the overall demand for content from all over the globe means that capacity must continue to increase on the cross-border networks. It’s a boon for telecommunications companies that provide the gear for fatter pipes and also an indicator of how interconnected our world will continue to be. As the world becomes flat, the links between nations are becoming fat.