Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Internet speeds up in U.S.

  The FCC report indicated that the average subscriber speed in their sample was 15.6 Mbps in September, 2012 - an increase of 20% over the previous six months.  In addition, the FCC's volunteer (i.e. nonrandom) sample reported access speeds up to 75 Mbps, well into the range considered fast broadband.  While the nonrandom nature of the sample means that we shouldn't extrapolate reported results onto the general U.S. population, there's still strong indication that speeds are increasing, and broadband access is expanding.
   The focus of the FCC study is to examine whether internet access providers consistently reach the data speeds they advertise.  Cable companies did well, with average speeds reaching 99% of advertised speeds - but fiber optic providers actually exceeded advertised rates by 15% (average speeds were 115% of advertised speeds).  In contrast, more than half of older DSL providers had average speeds less than 90% of those advertised.  I should note that DSL is well on its way to becoming a legacy technology, largely unable to match the bandwidth and data speeds of fiber optic based wireless access providers (be they cable or telco fiber networks).  As such, I would not be surprised that DSL would occasionally deliver subpar performance.
  While the focus of the report was on wireline Internet access, the FCC did consider one wireless technology - satellites.  The report noted that a new generation of satellites offer significantly higher access speeds and improved performance.  They note that the new ViaSat-1 Ka-band satellite hosts more bandwidth than all other Ka-, Ku-, and C-band satellite data services in North America, combined.  As a result, satellite data services can provide 12 Mbps service to all areas of the U.S.  In fact, the FCC report shows that satellite data subscribers regularly achieve higher download speeds than advertised.  That satellite data services are offering broadband speeds is critical to goals of achieving universal broadband access, as it provides an option for rural areas unlikely to see wireline network expansion for years to come.

  The big news of the report, though, is that speeds are ramping up, and consumers are following,  At least 10% of subscribers in each of the April 2012 service tiers reported moving to a higher-speed service.  The movement is highest at the low end, with almost half (46%) of the sample with 1 Mbps or slower service in April 2012 moving to a higher-speed service.  A subset of the FCC sample also tracked data traffic, and found a correlation between service plan speeds and data traffic generated.  It's unclear whether that pattern is driven by greater speeds encouraging more data use, high data users migrating to faster service plans as they come available, or some combination of those and other factors.
  The graph of cumulative distribution of data traffic suggests some other interesting results.  First, that 10% of cable and fiber subscribers in that subsample generated at least 160 Gb of data traffic a month, as do 5% of DSL subscribers.  And that was after the researchers excluded users in the sample with very high consumption profiles, and subscribers of some very fast services with low subscription rates.  That is, you had those levels even after excluding the really high data traffic cases.  The other interesting result is the Satellite cumulative distribution curve.  The shift from a general curve to the two plateaus illustrates one of the current limitations of satellite data services - that their service plans tend to have fairly low monthly caps on traffic (beyond which costs go up substantially, or service is restricted).
  The FCC concluded that bandwidth speeds are continuing to advance, while actual performance showed some improvement, in terms of Internet access providers generally meeting their advertised standards.  Findings that were consistent with previous reports. Still, speeds are expected to continue to increase; In their conclusions, they note that a number of cable and fiber access providers are offering 100 Mbps or higher data plans in selected areas, and Google's 1 Gbps service in Kansas City.  The report also indicated that they plan on addressing one significant gap in their current approach, by taking a look at mobile broadband services.  With 4G offering the potential for high speed mobile broadband, and the FCC's recently announced goal of developing a new national mobile broadband service. the mobile segment will likely be an increasingly important segment of the broadband access market.

  As always, the report has a lot more detail, and if you want to check how your technology/provider grades out, go there.

Sources -  Web Users Pick Up Speed, ISP's DSL Service SketchyOnline Media Daily
2013 Measuring Broadband America: February Report,  FCC report

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