The United States has catapulted to near the top of the pack in global Internet usage, according to a USTelecom analysis of Internet traffic data from the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) and population and Internet user data from the United Nations (UN), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and Internet World Statistics (IWS).
The U.S. trails only South Korea, but has eliminated most of the gap with that country over the last couple of years. South Korea had previously been a unique outlier in its Internet data consumption, and the gap between the U.S. and South Korea is often cited as a benchmark by proponents of more aggressive interventionist broadband policies in the U.S. Some critics also have unfavorably compared U.S. broadband performance with Western Europe and Japan, yet the U.S. is consuming more than double the IP traffic of both countries. This new data suggests that compared to international peers the U.S. is gaining ground, not falling behind. Examining Internet usage data provides quantifiable information about the extent to which people are actually using networks, and may be more informative than typically cited measures such as bandwidth capacity or price per bit of bandwidth capacity.
As noted in a recent USTelecom blog, the U.S. contributes disproportionately to global IP traffic, generating more than 30 percent of traffic while housing less than 5 percent of world population. But how does the U.S. compare to specific regions and nations? It is possible to make comparisons by calculating Internet traffic per user for all regions of the world and selected countries. The two charts below show results of USTelecom’s analysis for the different regions of the world and selected countries for 2012, and comparable results from a similar analysis in 2010.
The charts indicate that traffic is growing across the world, though in greater degree for some areas. North America, which is predominantly the U.S., continues to lead the world with 50 Gigabytes per user per month (GB/user/month), about double its 2010 traffic per user. Western Europe is consuming less than half that at 24 GB/user/month, and growing more slowly. Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America have made the greatest proportionate gains, roughly quadrupling traffic per user over the last couple years and edging past Asia-Pacific. All three are in the roughly 12 to 14 GB/user/month range, trailed by Middle East and Africa at less than 3 GB/user/month.
Most striking in the chart of industrialized countries is the degree to which the U.S. has closed the gap with world leading South Korea. From 2010 to 2012, the U.S. traffic per user grew 98 percent, from 26 GB/user/month to 51 GB/user/month, while South Korea only grew by 17 percent, from 49 GB/user/month to 58 GB/user/month. In 2010 there was a 48 percentage point gap between the U.S. and South Korea; by 2012 the gap was only 12 percentage points. The U.K. more than doubled traffic per user, Canada grew nearly 75 percent, and Japan 66 percent. Continental European countries growth was relatively slower.
Methodology note: The Cisco VNI reports Internet Protocol (IP) traffic for six regions. Within each region, Cisco VNI reports data for selected countries and the "rest of" the region online. To compare to other countries or regions, it is necessary to normalize the data by, for example, users or population. Cisco VNI provided a country-theater list mapping almost 230 countries to each region, including those in each "rest of" region category. Population and Internet users by country were derived from UN and ITU data. IWS nternet user data served as a backup where ITU data were not available. After reconciling minor differences among data sources, USTelecom was able to map population and Internet user data to countries representing 99.99 percent and 99.64 percent of UN-reported world population, respectively. USTelecom added the populations and Internet users for countries in the “rest of” region groups. From there it was possible to calculate IP traffic per user and per population for each region and country reported by the Cisco VNI.