US tops Scandinavia, EU for fastest broadband. No, really

The US enjoys a fleeting moment as a country known for fast broadband, at least in one analyst's assessment.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Scandinavian nations might have some of the fastest mobile networks in the world, but the US is still managing to forge ahead in other comms fields.

One way of comparing high-speed broadband prowess is to look at the combined take-up of speedy services across both mobile and fixed networks. And on that count, the US is ahead, according to analyst firm Ovum.

The US is ranked eighth in the world when it comes to the takeup of high-speed fixed and mobile broadband combined — ahead of not just the whole of Europe (which is not surprising given the diversity of the comms landscape on the continent) but also countries known to have very fast and widely available fixed and mobile broadband services, such as Switzerland (for the record, not part of Scandinavia) and Sweden.

The ranking comes from Ovum's new Broadband Development Index, which tracks the use of high-speed fixed and mobile broadband across 191 countries.

At the top of are the usual suspects, led by South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, followed by a less likely lot including Qatar, Andorra, UAE, the USA, Canada, and Norway — the only European country to make the cut for top 10.

It may seem a little surprising to find the US and Norway in the top 10 but not Sweden, given that 36 percent of Swedish households have fibre available and almost everyone has broadband, according to recent OECD figures. Though Sweden got an early start on LTE in 2009, the rollout didn't kick off in earnest until 2011/2012, and nowadays covers all major cities and many smaller ones too. Besides that, it's generally pretty fast.

If you keep track of regular country-by-country broadband performance reports you'll know that the US often comes out as a bit of a laggard.

Two reports from mobile broadband speed testing firm OpenSignal earlier this year showed that average speeds on US LTE networks were some of the slowest in the world at about 6.5Mbps. On the other hand, the country has great LTE coverage thanks to Verizon.

Meanwhile, Akamai's latest report revealed fixed line service speeds in the US had improved, with an average across the country of 11.4Mbps. Hardly lightning fast, but enough to place it 14th in the world.

But, as Ovum analyst Milena Cooper pointed out to ZDNet this week, many country by country comparisons don't combine fixed and mobile.

Due to fixed-mobile convergence and the fact that in emerging economies mobile is the "de facto broadband technology", Ovum thinks it makes more sense to have a combined index.

"We believe it's no longer just about mobile and it’s no longer just about fixed. That's why we've brought them together," Ovum analyst Milena Cooper told ZDNet.

The US ranked well in 2014, according to Cooper, purely due to its early and vast LTE deployments — a move led by Verizon, which having completed its first LTE rollout covering 95 percent of the population, is now looking at voice of LTE (VoLTE). 

Part of the ranking is also based on Ovum's definition of high-speed broadband, which includes LTE, while 3G is just broadband and 2G is not counted as broadband at all. On the fixed side, fast broadband includes fibre, VDSL, and DOCSIS 3.0, while standard includes DSL, and non-broadband includes dialup.

Ovum gives each country a score out of 1000 made up of 500 points derived from a nation's high-speed mobile take-up and 500 derived from fixed line take up. So, countries with a higher take up of LTE among its total subscriber base get a higher score. The same weight is placed on the take up of high-speed broadband.

If a country scores 1000, things are looking pretty good since they've reached the "the ultimate connectivity" between mobile and fixed, said Cooper.

Norway surpassed Sweden in the current's year ranking because of an accelerated takeup of fast fixed line broadband compared to Sweden, perhaps the result of Norway's plan last year to get everyone on a 100Mbps connection

The top 10 in 2019 though will look very different besides the four Asian countries remaining there. Qatar's ranking will slide due to its slow development of mobile networks, while its fixed line networks will have reached 100 percent by the end of this year.

The story is the reverse for the US, where Ovum sees its overall ranking slide to 13th place in 2019, dragged down by pricey mobile subscriptions but to a larger degree by slower take up of fast fixed line broadband, dominated there by DOCSIS 3.0.

Meanwhile, Europe will storm to the top of Ovum's index by 2019, with the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden edging Norway and others out to share space alongside developed parts of Asia.

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