Internet Speeds Around the World
Have you ever wondered how your country stacks up against the rest of the world for internet speeds? As demand for bandwidth grows more and more with each year, internet providers in developed countries are attempting to keep up with these demands by providing faster internet packages to their customers. Some countries have done better at this than others, so what’s the pecking order?
Numerous studies have been carried out to test this, and while the exact figures may differ in each study, the general trend and pattern remains the same. The same Scandanavian and East Asian countries regularly appear at the top of the list in the different surveys, and interestingly these are not the obvious developed nations that you might think, like the USA, UK, Canada, Australia etc. Whilst their average internet speeds are decent, they are not world beating and none of these countries appears in the top 10 in most studies. So let’s see who does top the list!
Global Internet Speeds – A Visual Comparison
We have posted an interactive map below of global average internet download speeds so you can quickly see at a glance which countries and regions have higher internet speeds versus lower ones. The general pattern in terms of developed versus developing and third world nations is not too surprising, but some interesting countries stand out as star performers in the internet speed ranking. Lets take a look. You can hover over each country to see their average download speed.
UK, USA, Western Europe – Middle of the Pack
The table clearly shows the general trend of countries and region, with red denoting poor internet speeds, orange and yellow denoting respectable mid range speeds and light to dark green denoting high internet speeds. The UK, USA and Canada have decent mid range internet speeds of around 13-14 mbps on average but are nowhere near the fastest.
Australia lags behind at around 8 mbps average. Some of the Western European countries again have decent mid range speeds but France and Italy are still lagging behind in the single digits mbps average download speed. Switzerland and the Netherlands are standouts in this region with impressive average speeds of around 17 mbps.
The Standout Peformers – Scandanavia, East Asia and Eastern Europe
In the West the standout countries for fast average internet speeds are undoubtedly the Scandanavian ones – Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway all have high averages and consistently feature in or near the top 10 in all studies. The nearby Baltic nations of Lithuania and Latvia also have impressive average speeds. Some Eastern European countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria also have impressive average speeds, beating their Western European neighbours in some cases.
Scandanavian countries consistently rank high for average internet speeds. Nearby Baltic countries also have impressive speeds
East Asia undoubtedly comes out top for the fastest outright average download speed, with South Korea taking the top spot in the world with an average speed of 26.7 mbps in this study. Japan is also impressive at around 17mbps, and Singapore and Hong Kong also consistenly rank high in all studies. Thailand and Taiwan also have respectable average speeds in this region, beating Australia for example.
China actually has a low average score of around 4 mbps despite being such a fast growing economy with well over 700 million internet users by 2016. Whilst fast internet is no doubt available in some parts of China, there is a lot of disparity in internet speeds within the country so the slower speeds in some regions pull down the overall average.
The Poor Performers – South America, Africa, the Middle East and Subcontinent
The regions with the slowest internet speeds are understandably the developing and third world countries where the infrastructure is usually not as good. South and Central America is not great on average, with Chile, Uruguay and Mexico the best overall countries, hovering around 6 mbps average speed each. Even a growing economy like Brazil only has an average of around 4 mbps in this region.
Africa is probably the slowest region overall for internet speeds with many African countries struggling to get to even 1-2 mbps average download speed. Kenya and South Africa are the best in this region with 4-5 mbps average speed and Morocco is not far behind.
The main reason for Africa lagging behind is that quality broadband internet is not so widely available in Africa in the way that we have grown to take for granted in the developed world. In fact, recent stats indicate that only around a third of Africans are internet users at all. It is much more difficult to focus on installing fibre optic broadband in this region with so many parts of Africa still have more pressing economic and political concerns.
The subcontinent is also not great for average internet speeds, with Pakistan clocking in at 2.1 mbps average and India slightly better at 2.8 mbps. Nearby countries like Iran and Bangladesh are similar in this regard. Again the infrastructure and investment to install high quality internet is not there yet in these regions. High quality fast broadband is definitely available in wealthy parts of India like Mumbai, but many parts if India are still very poor and the overall speed for the country is still low.
Surprisingly, the oil rich Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar also have low average internet speeds. The UAE has a slightly better average of around 7 mbps but still low for a country with so much oil wealth that could be used to invest in internet infrastructure. Nearby countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria also have low average speeds, but this is understandable given the political and economic troubles these countries are going through.
Why Do Some Countries Have Faster Internet Than Others?
So why is it that some countries have so much faster average internet speeds than others? An obvious answer might be that some countries are richer than others, with a higher standard of living and wealth per capita, and so can they afford to install and pay for high speed internet across the country. On a general level this is obviously true, as the map clearly shows that richer developed countries in general have faster speeds then developing and third world countries.
But there are certain countries that go against this trend. Some Eastern European and Baltic states like Romania, Lithuania and Latvia, which could not be described as super wealthy, still have very impressive internet speeds that beat their supposedly “richer” Western European neighbours like France and Italy.
Similarly, Australia, a fully developed first world country that consistenly ranks in the top 3 in the Human Development Index and other standard of living indexes, has a relatively poor average internet speed of around 8 mbps, well below it’s developed world counterparts.
So why is it that some wealthy countries have poor average internet speeds, and some not so wealthy countries have very impressive internet speeds? Lets take a look at some other reasons for this besides the “wealth” of a nation.
I. Geographical Size
One major factor in average internet speeds is simply the size of the country. An major advancement in internet technology in the last 10-15 years that made faster internet possible is the widespread use of fibre optic cables, which can transport more data at a faster speed than the standard copper cables that were used before.
But these cables take time and money to install and it stands to reason that it is much easier to install a network of fibre optic cables over a smaller area than a larger one. Hence why some of the smaller countries like the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark have really fast internet speeds as it was relatively easier to fit these smaller countries out with a comprehensive network of fibre optic cables which could then feed high speed internet into a large number of homes. If a high percentage of homes have access to high speed fibre internet, then the average speeds for that country are going to be higher.
Similarly, a country like the USA, that is considered very wealthy with a high standard of living, is very large geographically, so even with all the wealth and investment in America it is very difficult to install a comprehensive network of fibre optic cables over such a large country. Built up urban areas will inevitably get the investment whilst rural areas will be neglected and therefore internet speeds there are likely to stay low, pulling down the overall average.
So the American average speed, whilst not terrible, is not as high as you might think for the wealth of the country, partly because installing fibre optic networks is so expensive and time consuming over a large area. The same applies to other large developed countries like Canada and Australia – the speeds are not terrible but they cannot compete with smaller developed countries for outright internet speed and fibre coverage.
II. Inequality of Income and Wealth
Another factor in average internet speeds is the distribution of income and wealth in that country. This explains why countries with a high GDP per capita can still have poor average internet speeds compared to ostensibly less wealthy countries, because the wealth is concentrated amongst a small percentage of the population.
So this small wealthy segment will no doubt have access to high speed internet, but the majority of the population still has to suffer with poor quality internet, so the overall average for the country will still be low. This is no doubt true for oil rich gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who no doubt have the wealth to invest in high quality internet structure but have chosen not to and so lag behind the rest of the world despite having vast wealth and resources.
The same is also true of countries like Brazil, where wealth inequality is also high. So you have a small segment wealthy segment of the population who are able to afford high quality fast internet, but most people cannot and are stuck with poor quality slow internet access. This added to the fact that Brazil is also a large country geographically explains why their average speed is not great despite being a developing economy with plenty of resources.
III. Extensive Fibre to the Home (FTTH) Policies in Some Countries
This is the biggest factor why the Scandanavian countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland are so impressive in the internet speeds rankings. Internet companies and governments in these countries have usually been targeting FTTH since the mid 2000s at least, with the goal to have fibre optic internet accessible to as much of the population as possible.
These policies have paid dividends and the percentage of households with a download speed of at least 10 mbps is invariably very high in these countries, easily over 50% in every case.
Other countries like the UK have also adopted FTTH policies and set targets for increasing coverage to more home, but they are well behind the Scandanavian countries who started years earlier and so average speeds in the UK will continue to lag behind these countries in the years ahead. Countries which invested early in fibre optic technology coverage are reaping the rewards of future proofing themselves with a stronger and faster internet infrastructure.
Summary – A Combination of Factors Determine Internet Speeds in a Country
In summary then, whilst it is true on a general broad level that more developed ‘wealthier’ countries have faster internet than poorer ones, there are also other factors involved in determining which countries really stand out with excellent average internet speeds. We have gone over factors such as geographical size, inequality of wealth, and FTTH policies as reasons why some countries have excelled at providing widespread coverage to fast internet.
Usually, it is when two or more of these factors combine that a country really takes off in terms of internet speeds. For example, the Scandanavian countries, as well as being wealthy and developed to begin with, are also small geographically and therefore easy to equip with widespread fibre optic coverage.
Inequality of wealth is also low in these countries, meaning that more people have the means to access high speed internet packages. These factors all combine to drive average internet speeds in Scandanavian countries up and keep them consistently at the top of the ranking for download speeds.
Similarly, the East Asian countries that also excel like South Korea and Singapore are also small geographically as well as wealthy, and have a high tech focused culture that drives innovation and progress in connectivity and technology.
Larger developed countries like Canada and the USA struggle to match the average speeds of smaller first world nations because of the difficulty of installing comprehensive fibre optic coverage over such a large area.