The State of the Internet: Now Bigger, Faster & Mobile

The Internet as we know it is not only getting bigger and faster, but it is also becoming more mobile with more and more people accessing Internet-based services from their smartphones. These are some of the key findings of Akamai’s “The State of the Internet” report for the fourth quarter of 2009. The report uses data collected from Akamai’s global content delivery network to draw conclusions that are a good representation of the Internet.

A Bigger Internet

During the last three months of 2009, nearly 4.7 percent more unique IP addresses were connecting to Akamai’s network. At the end of 2009, there were about 465 million IP addresses from 234 countries vs. 401 million at the end of 2008 and 312 million at the end of 2007. The U.S. and China account for nearly 40 percent of the total 465 million unique IP addresses. What that tells us is that more people around the world are using the Internet.

Planet Mobile

The rapid growth in the number of unique IP addresses is going to decline mostly because of the law of large numbers. In addition, many service providers, including mobile carriers, are using network address translation (NAT) and proxy/gateway technology to cope with the exhaustion of the IPv4 address space. I bet that as we start to see more and more “connected” devices there will be a burst in the number of unique IP addresses. Ericsson recently forecast there would be 50 billion connected devices by 2020.

Akamai studied 109 mobile providers and found more than 40 of them to have average measured connection speeds of over 1 Mbps in the fourth quarter, while 11 had broadband-level connectivity, which Akamai defines as speeds of 2 Mbps or greater. Austria currently is home to the fastest mobile broadband provider — 3.2 Mbps — while the Russian Federation is fractionally lower, followed by Italy and Poland.

Interestingly, in the U.S. it seems Clearwire (Sprint) is doing a great job of holding the mantle of wireless broadband leader. According to Akamai, “[D]ata for a leading WIMAX network provider in the United States – at an average measured connection speed of approximately 1.8 Mbps, they place within the top 20 mobile providers globally. This provider showed a quarterly speed gain of 11.5%, and a yearly gain of 5%.”

Faster Faster Broadband


Ironically, the growing popularity of mobile phones is bringing down average global connection speeds, despite substantial network and speed upgrades in many countries. Case in point is South Korea, where the launch of Apple’s iPhone in November 2009 was so successful that it brought down the average connectivity speed by 24 percent. Now remember, this is South Korea — home to some of the fastest broadband connections anywhere in the planet.

“As the average observed connection speed for this mobile provider was a fraction of that observed from wireline connections in South Korea, we believe that this launch was likely responsible for the significant drop in South Korea’s average observed connection speed in the fourth quarter,” the Akamai report notes.

That said, the Internet got a lot faster. Even though the total broadband connections to Akamai’s network grew only 1.6 percent, now nearly one-fifth of the connections to the network had speeds of 5 Mbps or more, up 6 percent in the third quarter of 2009. In the U.S., nearly 25 percent of connections are now 5 Mbps. For further details, check out the chart, which breaks down the top markets and speed shares.

I think it’s most interesting to see the share in ultra-broadband: 25 Mbps or more. The rollout of FTTx/DOCSIS 3.0 technology-based networks is only going to increase, and that will have a long-term implication for all types of web services and service providers. Tiny countries like Switzerland, Monaco, Slovakia and Croatia are seeing massive broadband adoption.

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