Hard data on the state of the Internet

Michael Kennedy


Akamai's "The State of the Internet" report provides hard data on Internet attack traffic, IP address usage and the Internet's performance. Akamai's data is no small sample. Over one trillion requests for content each day from users in over 200 countries/regions around the world are measured and analyzed. Akamai estimates that this is 20 percent to 30 percent of worldwide Internet traffic. This huge volume of real user data provides an unfiltered window into the Internet's actual behavior.

Fourth quarter 2011 data recently released reveals the shockingly intense level and breadth of Internet security attacks, the approaching exhaust of available IPv4 addresses, strong and steady increases in broadband performance, and the emerging character of mobile broadband usage.

Perversely the intense and widespread Internet security attacks may be the most sincere testimony to the Internet's value. Attack traffic originated in 187 unique countries/regions. Thirteen percent of the attack traffic originated in China, 10 percent in the U.S and Indonesia, Taiwan, and Russia followed closely behind with 7.6 percent, 7.5 percent, and 6.8 percent attack traffic shares respectively. The attacks are targeted where the opportunities are greatest. The leading target (25 percent of all attacks) was Port 445 (Microsoft Directory Services) which provides access to Domain Controllers used for session authentication and authorization. The second leading target (12 percent of all attacks) was Port 1433 (Microsoft SQL Server) which provides access to many large enterprise databases. These high levels of security attacks confirm the importance of making Internet security an essential part of every network operation.

Exhaustion of IPv4 addresses has been predicted for many years but creative use of NAT (network address translation) has repeatedly forestalled the literal exhaustion of IPv4 addresses. This time, however, IPv4 addresses really appear to be running out. IPv4 addresses are assigned by regional Internet registries. The Asia-Pacific registry is now using its final block of 16.8 million IPv4 addresses. The European registry is projected to run out of address in August of this year. The African registry with a projected address exhaust date of October 2014 is expected to be the last to run out of IPv4 addresses. Like diamonds and Monet paintings scarcity of IP addresses can be measured by their resale price. Borders, the bankrupt bookseller, recently resold its IP addresses at a price of $12 each.

The rising scarcity and cost of IPv4 addresses is finally providing the motivation to move to IPv6. Conversion of individual IP addresses to IPv6 requires an upgrade or replacement of each end-user's network interface-a cable modem for example. Perhaps a program similar to the one used in the U.S. to convert of from analog to digital broadcast TV will be needed.

Akamai's Internet performance statistics measure the speed (Mbps) of individual content downloads from the Akamai platform. A log entry is made of the requesting IP address, content size, and time required for the download. Consequently, this is a measurement of the actual user experience. It is not necessarily a measure of the physical broadband connection's speed because multiple users typically share an IP address and content/applications such as VoIP, gaming, or P2P are not handled by Akamai.

Globally fixed broadband average connection speeds increased 19 percent last year to an average download data rate of 2.3 Mbps. South Korea lead the world with an average connection speed of 17.5 Mbps while the United States was in 13th place with a 5.8 Mbps connection speed and an annual speed increase of 14 percent. Curiously average connection speeds dropped 14 percent globally from Q3 2011 to Q4 2011. Speed decreases occurred in 93 of the measured countries/regions. Since Akamai's measurements are of the actual user experience I believe that the short term drop in speed is due to increases in requests for OTT video downloads that exceeded the rate of network capacity additions. This also is likely driving service providers' proposals to begin capping and/or billing for services on a usage basis.

Mobile data download speeds are significantly below those of fixed broadband. One German mobile operator achieved an average connection speed in excess of 5 Mbps out of the more than 100 mobile operators measured by Akamai, while 27 additional operators had average speeds of more than 2 Mbps, and 49 other operators had average download speeds over 1 Mbps. I see little incentive for mobile operators to seek parity with the speeds of fixed broadband operators because WiFi offload provides higher speed performance from mobile devices while eliminating the need for massive investments in additional mobile backhaul facilities.

Akamai's statistics confirm the rapid growth of the Internet in all of its dimensions. Increases in the number of working IP addresses are an indicator that more people are using the Internet and in-turn forcing conversion to IPv6 with its larger address space. The intensity and breadth of security attacks also confirm the increasing size and importance of the Internet. Internet average download speeds increased by 19 percent last year, however, a slowdown in the latest quarterly results may suggest that HTTP video traffic growth is beginning to degrade overall Internet performance in many countries. Finally, it appears that mobile broadband data services are developing side-by-side fixed broadband services and will act to extend the reach and pervasiveness of the Internet rather than compete with fixed broadband for market share.

Michael Kennedy is a regular FierceTelecom columnist and is Principal Analyst at ACG Research-www.acgresearch.net. He can be reached at [email protected]