Sunday, September 21, 2014

Speed matters: check it with Ookla's open data!

As discussed and expressed in many posts on this blog over the years (see a selection here), speed matters.  Over the past decade or so, I've had more than a few encounters with visitors from the U.S. or Europe who expressed surprise when told that South Korea had the fastest broadband networks of any comparable country in the world.  Some of them thought that Japan had faster networks.  Just within the past year, such a view was even offered in a peer review of a scholarly publication I had co-authored!
Now, thanks to the folks at Ookla, any debate about which country or city, for that matter, has the fastest internet connections can be quickly answered by using their NetIndex Explorer.  It provides visualizations based on a large number of speed tests worldwide and is probably the best available empirical measure of broadband speeds around the globe.  If you don't trust me, take a look at the recent study by MIT researchers.   As shown on the accompanying screen capture (click to see a full-size version), taken a few minutes ago, South Korea has an average download speed of 54.0 Mbps, based on which it is only fourth fastest in the world, according to Ookla.  By comparison, when I did the screen capture, Japan showed an average download speed of 23.5 Mbps and China 22.9 Mbps.
So what three countries have faster average download speeds than South Korea?  Interestingly, two of them are cities, Singapore and Hong Kong, and the third is Romania.  Obviously, inclusion of cities and city-states like Singapore raises the question of whether this is an apples and oranges comparison.  However, Romania, which has a population less than half as large as South Korea, is a fairer comparison.
Ookla's NetIndex Explorer tool allows you compare countries and to drill down to the city level within nations, as shown in the second screen capture (again, click for a full-size version) where I created a line graph to compare Singapore, Romania and Korea over time.
Although other organizations, including M-lab, Google and Akamai and others, also measure internet speeds, Ookla deserves special recognition for making its data available publicly and downloadable for further analysis under a Creative Commons copyright.  This is an example of open data that is extremely valuable for the internet community worldwide!

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