Here’s a sobering fact: Many of the most important innovations we depend on hinge on a fast Internet connection. And yet not all countries are delivering on the speed we need now—let alone what we’ll require in the future.
Setting aside the issue of access in developing regions—which, in itself, is a major problem worthy of focused attention—the disparities in broadband speeds between advanced nations speak to how well they’re prepared for an increasingly connected future.
Take the United States. Americans stream more video than ever. Most of our future smart homes will rely on broadband. We store more of our files from our smartphones, tablets, and laptops in the cloud, and our carriers push us to use Wi-Fi instead of cellular networks for data.
Some smartphones even allow for Wi-Fi calling, including several Android devices and the latest Apple phones.
All of these scenarios require fast Internet connections at home and on the go.
America Barely Online
And yet, the U.S. doesn’t even rank in the top 10 for global broadband speeds, according to Akamai’s “State of the Internet Report,” a survey covering the first three months of 2014.
Where’s the fastest Internet? The report reveals that South Korea, which is heavily urbanized with wired-up apartment buildings, offers the fastest broadband, with an average connection speed of 23.6 megabits per second, or Mbps.
Meanwhile, the U.S. weighs in with an average of 10.5 Mbps. While that will do for an ordinary video stream, Netflix recommends 25 Mbps for Ultra HD video—and you’re in trouble if multiple family members are watching different videos over the same connection.
The U.S. can’t even measure up to Latvia (12.0 Mbps), the Czech Republic (11.2 Mbps) and Finland (10.7).
And American broadband is more expensive, too.
According to a 2013 report by the nonprofit policy institute New America Foundation, we pay nearly three times more for broadband than customers in the United Kingdom, and more than five times as much as users in South Korea.
As Akamai notes, there are a number of factors which go into calculating average connection speeds. But as a big-picture snapshot of where the state of broadband speeds stand, it doesn’t look too good for the U.S., despite many of today’s hottest Internet companies calling it home.
At least we’re not Australia, which lands even further off the chart. The survey pegs the country’s average speed at 6.0 Mbps, despite the fact that it has the most expensive broadband in the world. (Aussies, you can thank Telstra for that.)
Now, even faster, next-generation gigabit broadband networks loom large. Though not quite commonplace yet, that seems to be where the next great leap in Internet connectivity lies. And the countries that prioritize fast speeds, and the infrastructure to support it, could be in the best position to bring those pipes to more of its citizens.
Below, you’ll see a map covering the top 55 countries by Internet speed, according to Akamai’s report, and a chart listing the top 10, with the U.S. added for good measure. Enjoy. Or not.
Infographic by Madeleine Weiss for ReadWrite