Broadband customers across the US are now seeing average speeds over 50Mps down for the first time — specifically, 54.97Mbps, a 40 percent increase over this time a year ago, while upload speeds jumped 51 percent to 18.88Mbps.Ookla’s latest Speedtest.net report for the US is in, and it’s got some good news: internet speeds have become noticeably faster.
However, it says this year’s big merger between Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks could have the largest impact.The US telecom sector has seen considerable consolidation in the past few years, as Ookla notes in the report, with AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV, and Altice USA’s purchase of Cablevision in back 2015.
That doesn’t include Verizon FiOS, which was first out of the gate. The biggest bright spot is the growth of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), or fiber optic connections. But it seems to have stalled out in growth and isn’t much better or faster than conventional cable these days except on upload speed, as this chart shows:
The real growth instead is in gigabit fiber optic, with the most notable being the (still not widely available) Google Fiber. The report notes some small cities have local ISPs that have begun to offer fiber connections to the home as well.
On the mobile side, speeds have jumped over 30 percent on the four major US carriers, averaging 19Mbps down in the first half of 2016. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless have all pushed hard to expand their LTE networks. Here, the problem isn’t so much speed as in coverage; getting 10Mbps or 30Mbps on LTE is less important if you can only get 2G or 3G in certain parts of the US, or worse, nothing at all. I’ve reviewed hundreds of phones over the years and have found countless dead spots during testing, even in areas that providers typically say offer the best coverage on the maps they provide to the public. It’s become much better, but it’s a trivial task to find LTE dead spots just outside major cities even today.
So overall, there’s progress, but unfortunately the US is still running far behind some other nations. We rank just 20th overall in fixed broadband worldwide and a disappointing 42nd on the mobile side. Worse, not everyone in the US is seeing even these speeds; a recent FCC report on broadband progress found that 10 percent of Americans lack access to at least 25Mbps down and 3Mbps, and 39 percent of Americans when focusing specifically on rural customers (though just 4 percent lack access to those speeds in cities).
The report said that fiber optic network deployment “has the potential to bring a quantum leap in speeds to many U.S. markets in the coming years,” but that provider consolidation means there’s less incentive for ISPs to invest in those performance gains. Overall, a decent progress report, but providers have plenty of work to do — especially as people continue to move to an always-on, always-connected world, where streaming 4K video and multiplayer gaming is the norm.
You can read the full Ookla Speedtest.net market report for more details; it includes an interactive map that lets you click on individual cities and states for localized test results.