Broadband Speeds in the U.S. - How fast can we go?

Broadband speeds in the United States are increasing rapidly, a development which has many implications for applications, technology, and the economy alike in the coming years.


Defining Broadband

The term “broadband” does not refer to any technology in particular. Rather, it refers to data transmission and represents the amount of data that a consumer can download or upload from the Internet in a given second. Connection speeds are generally measured in kilobits per second (Kbps), megabits per second (Mbps) or gigabits per second (Gbps). 1 Gbps = 1000 Mbps = 1,000,000 Kbps.

The amount of bandwidth required by a household varies by a variety of factors. These factors include the number of users and the intensity of use; HD video, gaming, and interactions with remote networks requiring lots of real-time transfer of large files require more bandwidth than basic web surfing and e-mail. It also depends on the number of active devices per user, something which has been growing in recent years. 

So where have Internet speeds been in recent years? Where will they go? Some recent studies have shed light on these questions.

Advertised Speeds

A 2015 FCC report looked at consumer broadband service in the U.S. and concluded that there has been significant growth in both broadband speeds as well as uptake. Among the 13 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) surveyed, the maximum advertised download speeds over cable technologies increased from 12-30 Mbps in March 2011 to 50-105 Mbps in September 2014. Between September 2013 and 2014, the FCC observed a 105% increase among the most popular service tiers for each participating ISP. For cable  technology in particular, the development of Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (“DOCSIS 3.0”) technology has enabled these broadband ISPs to offer download speed tiers of 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps. In 2015, Comcast announced the arrival of DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which could provide speeds in excess of 1 Gbps, with maximum advertised speeds of 10 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload.

Across all ISPs surveyed in the FCC study, the average maximum advertised download speeds nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014, from 37.2 Mbps to 72.0 Mbps. This increase however was not uniform across all technologies.

Actual Download Speeds

The FCC report also looked at speeds actually experienced by subscribers, averaged across all participating ISPs--examining speeds measured during peak usage periods--and found that these speeds had progressed from 10 Mbps in March 2011, to 15 Mbps in September 2012, to nearly 31 Mbps in September 2014. The average annual increase in actual download speeds by technology over the period was approximately 28% for Digital Subscriber Link (DSL), 61% for cable, and 19% for fiber.

Actual download speeds

(Source: FCC 2015 Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report)

As is evident from the graph, while the actual download speeds over the four years (2011-2014) for the technologies of DSL and satellite were relatively unchanged, cable more than tripled in speed (from 12 Mbps to over 40 Mbps), and fiber increased significantly (from 27 Mbps to over 45 Mbps).

Upload Speeds

The annual average increase in upload speeds by technology over the period studied was about 77% for cable, nearly 28% for fiber, and 12.5% for DSL.

In terms of actual upload speeds by technology over the same period of time, the following chart illustrates the trend over the four years, 2011-2014.

Actual upload speeds

(Source: FCC 2015 Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report)

As shown, DSL upload speeds remained largely constant from 2011 to 2014, satellite upload speeds decreased, and cable increased from approximately 2 Mbps to 7 Mbps. Fiber exhibited the greatest increase of the technologies surveyed, increasing from 20 Mbps in March 2011 to 40 Mbps by September 2014. For fiber, the most significant increase occurred from September 2013 to September 2014, as the actual average upload speed increased from just over 25 Mbps to just over 40 Mbps, an increase of 60%.

Akamai.com has also surveyed speeds recently and found that average connection speed ranged from 3.6 Mbps in 2007 to 14.2 Mbps by the conclusion of 2015, a nearly four-fold increase over that period.

Future Broadband Projections

As depicted in the following analysis provided by Cisco, broadband speeds are only going to continue to increase in the coming years. The following tables shows the predicted increases. In North America,  average fixed broadband speeds will increase from approximately 25.4 Mbps to 51.4 Mbps by the year 2020.[1]

Fixed broadband speeds

For the United States in particular, average broadband speeds are forecasted to increase from 26.1 Mbps in 2015 to nearly double that—52.1 Mbps—by 2020. This development should have significant implications for business and economic development, including positive impacts on the unemployment rate, median household income, and home values as well.

 


Sources:

FCC Office of Engineering and Technology and Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, “2015 Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report”, December 30, 2015, https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/reports/measuring-broadband-america/measuring-broadband-america-2015#_Toc431901604.

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/220025-comcast-begins-rolling-out-docsis-3-1-based-gigabit-home-internet

https://www.akamai.com/us/en/our-thinking/state-of-the-internet-report/state-of-the-internet-connectivity-visualization.jsp.

VNI Complete Forecast Highlights Tool, http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/vni-hyperconnectivity-wp.html.

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