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Measuring international Internet bandwidth

How can the sufficiency of a nationís international Internet capacity be measured? This article highlights four ways.

Raw quantity or the amount of international Internet bandwidth adjusted by population. Hong Kong, China ranks top in this indicator with almost 1000 bit/s of bandwidth per inhabitant (see figure below). However, per capita bandwidth may not be meaningful because countries have different levels of Internet penetration. Therefore even if a nationís per capita bandwidth is low, it may have enough given the number of Internet users in the country. Since Internet use tends to be related to income, this indicator might be adjusted by per capita income to indicate if a nation is doing well relative to its per capita income.

Quality related to bandwidth per subscriber. It is computed by dividing the international Internet capacity by the number of Internet subscribers. Available evidence suggests that some 256 kbit/s per subscriber is a yardstick for the amount of international bandwidth per subscriber.1 Interestingly, the Maldives, a least developed country, ranks first in this indicator with some 409 kbit/s of international Internet bandwidth per subscriber. However, this indicator can be misleading for a number of reasons. ISPs might tailor international bandwidth just to the existing number of subscribers, constraining addition of new ones. In some countries, the number of users may be significantly higher than subscribers because of public Internet access. Thus the overall Internet experience may be a poor one. Furthermore, the growing deployment of broadband Internet access requires that users have greater international bandwidth.

Internet economy transition indicator. It is calculated by dividing the amount of international Internet capacity by equivalent voice satellite and submarine circuits (circuits multiplied by 64 kbit/s). This measures if the economy has more Internet than voice telephony circuits, suggesting that Internet dominates international communication. Japan leads in this category with roughly seven times more international Internet capacity than voice telephone circuits. Around ten economies in the region have made the transition. A high value for this indicator also suggests that a nation has moved to a sustainable telecommunication sector because it is not so concerned about applications such as Internet telephony cutting into conventional circuit-switched revenues.

Estimated demand. A Bit-Minute Index or BMI (formulated by the research company TeleGeography) can be constructed based on the theory that demand for international telephone conversations is a proxy for Internet communications. For example, the Internet can be used for voice over Internet Protocol and electronic mail to substitute for conventional circuit-switched telephone calls. BMI is constructed by dividing the total of incoming and outgoing international telephone calls (measured in minutes) by the international Internet bandwidth. Taiwan, China ranks first in this indicator. However, BMI is not a perfect substitute for estimating hidden Internet demand. Use of the Internet requires considerably extra skills and is more complicated than making a telephone call so that even if there was substantially extra international Internet bandwidth it is not clear if a nation could use it without the requisite skills.

One measure alone is not adequate to give an overall picture of how a nation is fairing in its international Internet capacity. Using a composite weighting all four indicators equally would find Hong Kong, China ranked first followed by Taiwan, China, Singapore, Australia and Japan.

1 See ISP Planet "Pricing your services".



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Updated : 2002-12-12