Mobile Now Shapes "Average" Internet Access Speeds

What will dramatically-higher mobile broadband and mobile data plan adoption mean for global “average” Internet access speeds? The question already is starting to matter.

By the end of 2011, total global mobile subscriptions reached nearly six billion by end 2011, corresponding to a global penetration of 86 percent, according to the International Telecommunications Union.

Growth was driven by developing countries, which accounted for more than 80 percent of the 660 million new mobile subscriptions added in 2011.

If one assumes a typical mobile connection supports lower speed than a fixed network broadband connection, rapidly growing mobile Internet access will have a huge impact on “average” access speeds.

By end 2011, there were more than one billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide. More important is the rate of change. Mobile broadband grew at a 40 percent annual
rate in 2011. That rate will slow over time, of course, but at such rates, the base of users doubles in less than three years.

Also, compare mobile broadband to fixed network broadband subscriptions. At the end of 2011, there were 590 million fixed broadband subscriptions worldwide. In other words, there were nearly twice as many mobile broadband users as fixed network broadband users by the end of 2011.

Furthermore, fixed network broadband growth in developed countries was slowing (a five percent increase in 2011), where developing countries continue to experience high growth (18 percent in 2011).

As you might guess, fixed network broadband penetration remains low in some regions, such as Africa and the Arab states, with 0.2 percent and two percent adoption,  respectively, by the end of 2011.

Also, in 2011, 30 million fixed broadband subscriptions were added in China alone, representing about half ofthe total fixed network subscriptions added worldwide, while fixed broadband penetration reached 12 percent in China.   

One should therefore assume that comparing future “average” or “typical” broadband speeds to past data will be misleading. We might already be seeing that sort of impact.

In the third quarter of 2012, the global average connection speed declined 6.8 percent to 2.8 Mbps, and the global average peak connection speed declined 1.4 percent to 15.9 Mbps, says Akamai.

That statistic likely directly reflects the growing use of mobile networks Since access from mobile devices far outstrips access from fixed network connections, globally, and since mobile network top speeds are less than fixed networks, generally, a growing volume of mobile connections will affect overall “average speed.”

In 2010, global mobile penetration was nearing 80 percent. Early in 2012, global mobile penetration reached 85 percent.

All of that means “average” statistics about broadband access speeds will have to be considered in a more nuanced way from this point forward. As “most” Internet access happens from mobile devices, the “average” connection speed, either peak or average, is going to reflect the “slower” mobile speeds, compared to fixed network connections.
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