30 Jul.

Global Internet Speeds In The Spotlight. Again…

In life we all encounter people who like to one up whatever story is being told, regardless of the reality of the situation. As a former competitive powerlifter, I encountered this all the time – there were no shortage of friends of friends who were breaking national and international records in their local gym without even realising it. More impressive were the number of people who were world champion strong before their knee exploded, or there shoulder started to give way, or, you know, they just didn’t have the time to train anymore.

When it comes to internet speeds however, most people like to downplay what good options are available to them, and instead focus on the edge cases or horror stories. This is one of the reasons why they will ever adopt cloud computing, never ever never. Ignore the fact that new options are always appearing, making our current concepts of good connectivity look like a bit of a joke. Okay, maybe the speeds won’t change drastically in all locations, but it’s very safe to assume that currently unaffordable solutions will become much more reasonable.

This week Akamai released their State Of The Internet report which I highly encourage you to download and take a look at. There is a great deal of useful information in there, but the important thing is that it shows that even countries that sound great on paper still have connectivity issues they are dealing with, and when you hear about a city being connected via gigabit it doesn’t mean that it’s within reach of everyone.

I’m not going to focus on Australia just yet, I’ll get to that later, instead the initial focus in on the top 10 countries. Apart from the United States, these are all fairly small countries. While I’ve been reading and listening to plenty of negative commentary on their drop of 1 place in the top 10, I’m still astounded that they are in that list at all, based on the difficulty Australia seems to have with nationwide broadband capabilities. image

As I type this, I’m sitting in country #7, Czech Republic, where my bandwidth experience closely mirrors the displayed result. I’m not in Prague, but several hours south east, close to the borders with Poland, Austria and Slovakia. Not exactly a major city, but 10Mbps seems to be what I encounter in almost all of the locations where I have internet access. Cafes, restaurants, offices, even the dog’s kennel 5km out of the city has the same speed.

What I have noticed this trip which is different to other visits, is that more of the access points in public places are being secured by simple WEP or WAP keys. I’m not sure what has prompted this – trying to block the drive by downloader for cost or exposure reasons (not very effective if the password doesn’t change), or just a way to drive more potential customers inside to order food or coffee, but there’s definitely a change to the internet almost everywhere approach that was more prevalent.

Now, on to Asia Pacific, with a focus on Australia. I’ve been to Seoul, and experienced fantastic internet connectivity there. I’ve been to Tokyo and also experienced fantastic internet connectivity, during an unplanned 12 hour stay in the Japan Airlines first class lounge. I don’t recall Hong Kong’s connectivity being anything special, and Singapore connectivity was only impressive once I was within the walls of the Microsoft offices.

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Australia at #41 probably hurts someone with more national pride than I do, but I see bigger problems in this list. Back to my acceptance that larger countries can be more problematic when it comes to good or acceptable connectivity in all locations, New Zealand is the one that confuses me. I’ve only been to New Zealand twice, for two powerlifting competitions, so internet infrastructure discussions with the locals weren’t exactly top of mind.

Here is a list about things I know about New Zealand (deliberately included to see which of my Kiwi buddies have read this far…)

1. They don’t like sheep jokes, especially the one containing the one that finishes with “baaaaaa!”, and they will point out that Australia has more sheep than New Zealand
2. Police Ten Seven is one of the best written comedy series on television
3. The Almighty Johnsons is the funniest NZ documentary produced
4. It’s near Australia
5. Their flag looks like the Australian flag
6. Bondi is one of major cities

Also notice that Singapore, which is much smaller than Australia, and allegedly a technology and business hub for the region, sits at #21, and is a massive 2.2Mbps faster. I’m sorry, but that’s more of a story to me. I know that Singapore residents have fewer choices for connectivity, but that to me is a shameful ranking versus the positioning of the country. Considering the number of cloud vendors with data centers in Singapore, you would think that perhaps the locals would benefit from some of the infrastructure running through their streets, but apparently not.

Now, is Australia really a third world country when it comes to internet connectivity? Well, it depends. I live about 4km from the CBD, and have 100Mbps download, but only 2Mbps upload on cable. Do I ever benefit from the full capability of the download speeds? You bet I do, thanks to people like Akamai and their CDN capabilities. Do I experience overseas link saturation at peak times? Definitely. Would I consider dropping from my 100/2 connection to 20/1? No. Way. In. Hell. This is a consumer service, so it’s relatively cheap, but if the opportunity for more upload capacity without much cost increase arises, I’ll be there.

High speed cable connectivity is extremely rare in Australia. You just had to get lucky during the early days of cable rollout. Thankfully my side of the block in my street in my suburb in Sydney have this option available, but with the promises of Labour’s NBN these speeds or better could be commonplace if you are willing to pay more than for basic connections. The Liberal plan isn’t as forward thinking, and hopefully these rankings show that they really shouldn’t look at the NBN as a cost saving opportunity rather than a long term investment, even if it’s just to stay ahead of New Zealand and the improvements that their infrastructure upgrades provide =).

What about mobile connectivity in Australia? Again, your location is going to determine your result, but here are a few Speedtest results from my phone. The phone is a Nokia Lumia 920 on the Telstra 4G network. Granted, these were done after hours in the central business district, so the results should be good, but they exceeded my expectations, thus the reason why I ran the test twice.

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The overall story for Australia is an interesting one, with sheer luck playing a factor for many when it comes to easily accessible high speed connectivity. Even for those who do have these options available and take them up, there is a tendency to switch into glass half empty mode and starting comparisons to US FIOS offerings, bandwidth cap discussions or the holy grail of internet – Seoul. Maybe I’m a rarity, but I’m happy with my home and mobile data speeds and pricing.

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