The world's fastest Internet broadband connections may be getting even faster, but that doesn't mean that the improvements in speed are trickling down to the Internet as a whole. And there may be fewer fast connections to go around: According to Akamai's fourth-quarter 2009 State of the Internet Report, the number of Internet connections at 2 Mbps and faster actually declined in 2009.
Akamai, which operates a global Content Delivery Network (CDN) that gives it a look into worldwide Internet access capabilities, said that its latest survey recorded 465 million unique IP addresses connecting to its network from 234 countries during fourth quarter -- an increase of 16 percent from a year earlier.
Globally, connections at speeds greater than 5 Mbps grew by 8.2 percent in the fourth quarter 2009 compared to the prior year. Those ultra-fast broadband connections represented 21 percent of global connections seen by Akamai, the company said.
However, the number of overall broadband connections are on the decline. Akamai reported that global connections of 2 Mbps or higher were actually down by 5.6 percent on a year-over-year basis. As a result, Akamai said connections of 2 Mbps or faster represented 54 percent of the total number of connections it recorded.
Meanwhile, slower narrowband connections -- slower than 256 Kbps -- are back on the rise, the company said. A part of that growth could be due to mobile connections, it added.
"Globally, the percentage of connections to Akamai at narrowband ... speeds increased an unexpected 41 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009," Akamai stated in its report. "However, in some countries, we believe that growing traffic from slower mobile connections is having a measurable impact on average speed calculations."
Despite the uptick in slower connections as faster ones declined, Akamai said the numbers don't necessarily suggest a longer-term trend.
"This quarterly increase in narrowband connections does not necessarily presage a shift towards reduced availability of higher-speed Internet connections, as other measures continue to point to continued growth of high-speed Internet connectivity," the report said.
The iPhone Effect
As it turns out, the Apple iPhone in particular could be a contributing factor in reducing global connection speed averages. South Korea, which had been the No. 1 nation for connections greater than 2 Mbps in the third quarter of 2009, dropped to third place in the fourth quarter. Switzerland and Monaco, meanwhile, held the first- and second-place positions.
"In exploring the source data, we noted that Akamai saw significant growth in the number of unique IPs associated with a specific mobile provider in the country," the report said. "As the Apple iPhone launched in South Korea in November 2009, it is likely that the growth in unique IPs seen on this mobile provider was associated with that launch."
U.S. cities are the fastest
On country basis, the U.S. ranked 40th for connection speeds greater than 2 Mbps. However, when Akamai looked at the fastest cities in the world, the U.S.'s showing is more impressive: The top three fastest cities in the world are all located in the country.
Berkeley, Calif., came in first at 18,730 Kbps, followed by Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at 17,483 Kbps, and the Stanford, Calif., area third at 16,956 Kbps. Not every major American metropolitan area fared as well, however: New York City connections to Akamai were reported to average 5,138 Kbps.
Overall, Akamai reported that more than a fifth of the top cities for broadband connections are in the U.S. In contrast, nearly half of the top cities for broadband were found in Japan.