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Measuring the Broadband Speed Divide using Crowdsourced Data

Digital applications and services increasingly require high-speed Internet connectivity. Yet a strong “broadband divide” exists between nations [1,2]. We try to understand how big data can be used to measure this divide. In particular, what new measurement opportunities can crowdsourced data offer?

The broadband divide has been widely measured using subscription rates. However, the broadband speed divide measured using observed speeds has been less explored due to the lack of data in the hands of regulators and statistical offices. This article focuses on measuring the fixed-network broadband speed divide between developed and developing countries, exploring the benefits and limitations of using new crowdsourced data.

To this aim we used measurements from the Speedtest Global Index, generated by Ookla using data volunteered by Internet users verifying the speed of their Internet connections [3]. These crowdsourced tests allow this firm to estimate monthly measurements of the average upload and download speeds at the country level.

The dataset used for this analysis comprised monthly data, from January to December 2018, for a total of 120 countries. Using the income and regional categorisations set by the World Bank we identified 64 developing countries and 54 developed countries in seven regions. Complete data for only two of the least developed countries were available so these were not included in the analysis.

The following table presents the download and upload speed averages on the fixed network, aggregated by region and level of development, and the totals for all the countries in our final sample (n=118), while the figure below shows the download and upload speeds aggregated by level of development.

Table 1. Average upload and download speed by region and development level, fixed network. January – December 2018 (Mbps)

Note: Unweighted averages
Source: Author calculations using data from Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index [3]

Figure 1. Average upload and download speed by level of development, fixed network. January – December 2018 (Mbps)

-Download speeds. We observe that the divide between developed and developing countries is pronounced with average download speeds for the latter being around one-third of the former. However, the divide is also evident within regions: in the developed world, countries in North America have speeds three-times higher than those in the Middle East. Within the developing countries those in Europe & Central Asia have the highest download speeds and those in the Middle East & North Africa have the lowest. Overall, download speeds are much lower in the developing world, thus creating an important impediment to the use of data-intensive digital applications and services.

-Upload speeds. We identify that overall there is an existing divide between developed and developing countries similar in magnitude to the one observed in download speeds. However, when looking at the group of developing countries we see that regional rankings are different compared to those identified using download speeds: the East Asia & Pacific region ranks first and North America ranks third – the latter with speeds that are two-thirds of their download speeds. Across regions, upload speeds are always slower in the developing world, and again the Middle East & North Africa region ranks at the bottom; but the divide between download and upload speeds is lower in the developing world. Considering that faster upload speeds are also required in a data-intensive era, the majority of the countries are far from the ideal of having faster networks with synchronous speeds.

Some benefits and limitations are identified when measuring the broadband speed divide using this type of crowdsourced data.

-Benefits. First, the availability of these types of data allows us to measure the broadband speed divide between developed and developing countries using observed instead of theoretical speeds. Second, these measurements are openly available on a website that can be accessed by the general public at no cost. Third, the divide can be measured and tracked over time more frequently than when using survey or administrative data. Finally, this site reports both download and upload speeds which are important to measure in a data-intensive era.

-Limitations. Even if there are data available for a good number of countries there are no complete data about the least developed countries, leaving behind this group. Also, there might be some bias in the production of data as crowdsourced measurements might be coming from ICT-literate individuals in certain countries [4]. Finally, from this source it is not possible to access complete datasets with additional data points such as the number of observations, medians, and latencies for each country.

These findings derive from a broader research project that, overall, is researching use of big data for measurement of the digital divide.  Readers are welcome to contact the author for details of that broader project: luis.riveraillingworth@manchester.ac.uk

References

[1] ITU (2018). Measuring the Information Society Report 2018. Geneva, Switzerland: International Telecommunication Union.

[2] Broadband Commission (2018). The State of the Broadband: Broadband catalyzing sustainable development. Geneva, Switzerland: Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.

[3] Ookla. (2018). Speed Test Global Index [Online]. Available: http://www.speedtest.net/global-index/about [Accessed 01/03/2019]

[4] Bauer, S., Clark, D. D. & Lehr, W. (2010). Understanding broadband speed measurements. In,TPRC 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1988332

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