The data from the first six months of 2016 is in; the internet in the United States has gotten faster. Fixed broadband customers have seen the biggest jump in performance with download speeds achieving an average of over 50 Mbps for the first time ever. This improvement is more than a 40% increase since July 2015.
Any progress is good news, particularly for the U.S. broadband market. We can thank increased competition from players like Google Fiber and the promising potential of public utility broadband, which we’re seeing in Chattanooga Tennessee.
Download and upload speeds aren’t everything, though. Anyone who’s done a live video chat or played video games has probably felt the pain of a high latency (lag) connection. Back to Ookla, here’s Joel Hruska, for their Speedtest blog in 2015:
Latency and ping are two closely related concepts that have a huge impact on how fast or slow your Internet connection feels, but are rarely mentioned in ISP ad copy. Cable and telephone companies sell their services solely on the basis of bandwidth, typically expressed in megabits per second, or Mbps.
The problem with emphasizing bandwidth is that it’s just one component in the perceived speed of an Internet connection.
I also like his water and pipe analogy for illustrating bandwidth vs. latency. I’ll probably steal it the next time I need to explain the difference:
Bandwidth is the total amount of water that can flow through the pipe in a given period of time (typically expressed in gallons per minute or gallons per hour). […] Latency, in contrast, is the amount of time it takes for the water that enters the pipe at one end to exit at the other.
Latency is often equally, if not more, critical to your Internet experience than total bandwidth. As many AF readers probably know, competitive online video games are particular sensitive to high latency connections. When your performance depends on fast reaction time, even a hundred milliseconds of lag can leave you looking stupid.