Broadband myth

Why speed is still a critical feature

Any idea how fast your real internet connection is at work? And what at home? And what via Mobile? And any idea how fast the average internet connection is in your country? We have seen these figures greatly over estimated! First of all, 9 out of 10 people don’t distinguish between bits and bytes. 8 bits is 1 Byte. Advertorials always contain speed in Mega bits per second (Mbps). While due to Billes Gates we are used to express the size of files in MegaBytes (MB) or KiloBytes (kB). Next to that Mobile packages are sold as “up to x Mbps”… but in real average connections are much slower.

With many websites having pages of 1 MB or more I hope this table gives you some indication. Please be aware the time only looks at pure download time. So it doesn’t take into account other factors that delay normal loading (like latency, rendering, etc).

Connection Avg* (range) Actual speed Time it takes for a page for 1 MB to load**
Mobile 3G  1 Mbps (0.06 – 7) 125 kB/s  8 seconds minimum**
ADSL 3 Mbps (1.5 – 9) 375 kB/s  2.7 seconds minimum**
Cable  5 Mbps (0.5 – 20)  625 kB/s  1.6 seconds minimum**

*) The average connection strongly differs per country

**) This is only the pure download time. So roundtrip, latency, browser rendering, and other factors are not taking into account. Depending on the set-up can cause even more serious delays! 

It is obvious there are many other facts that play a role in loading time for web pages or applications. Knowing that a good website should load within only a very few seconds, it is obvious that quickly business is lost when you create “big” sites. Despite the high broadband penetration we should still take care about making websites load fast. Especially organizations that operate globally! Hopefully next sections shows you even better the broadband myth.

Internet connections of users

We all have broadband. Yes. (At least almost all). But that is exactly causing the what I call “broadband myth”. Website developers and owners often don’t take speed enough into account as they believe the web has become a fast place. So not true! Although most of their users don’t use dial-up modems anymore…(remember the good old times?), making a website load fast on home, office and mobile connections is still a challenge. And although, even globally, almost everybody is on broadband, “broadband’ comes in quite some flavors. What counts is the actual real internet connections of your visitors.

When we started to look into the data we became pretty shocked; and this highlights the broadband myth even more. Here some insights that might help you understand the broadband myth. This list is in Bytes. Meaning US has average 8 Mbps connections which equals 1 MB/s.

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 Average internet connections per country (May 2011)

We took the list of all countries and embedded this into our Global Speed Test tool. You can run a quick test for your own website and see how your page loads around the world (estimated). For most countries we could use the data collected by M-labs. (May 2011). For countries where data was not available we took the 2010 figures from International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In some cases we even had to rely on publicly available data from Ookla Web Metrics (available via speedtests.net).

Sizes of web pages

Taking above into account you would assume that people responsible for global operating websites would never exceed say 100 kBytes per page. Unfortunately Google published over 1 year ago that the average page was already 320kB and most sites have drastically increased since. However with the right expertise and resources – everybody is able to create full-fledge website with only a few kBytes. If you want some inspiration on this look at initiatives like css1k.com or js1k.com, where they manage to create nice looking sites and/or functionality with less than 1024 bytes!

Anyhow, when you are serious about operating online in a global setting – realize that many potential customers are still on connections of 100 kB/s or less (e.g. China has 1.5x the amount of Internet users as in US, Mobile is taking over the desktop..). Combining these factors with the additional delaying factors (roundtrips, latency, browser rendering, etc) you better make sure you keep your pages low on byte-size and optimize for overall performance.

And hopefully this article has made you stop believing the broadband myth.

Thanks for reading,

Donald Res



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