How Fast Does Data Travel Across the Internet?

Unless you grew up in the early days of the internet, you will take it for granted how fast internet information can be accessed. For those above a certain age (circa 30), using the internet extensively was far less instant. We didn’t have, or couldn’t afford broadband connections. We had something called a modem, which when compared to a standard 6 MB per second connection you have to your home today, was in the region of 1,000s of times slower. On top of that, you had to wait for it to ‘dial up’ and authenticate with your Internet Service Provider before you could even access anything! This at best took just under a minute, but if the connection failed (which it often did), it could take three times as long.


Anyway, back to the subject, how fast does information travel across the internet?

In general terms, extremely fast! Basically, on average, data travels close to the speed of light through the fibre optic cables, and while it may slow down a little in its last leg of the journey into your house, that’s around 670 million MPH! Compare that to the speed a well-trained postal horse could run in the 1800s and that’s 33,480,000 faster!

Of course the speed at which you can access data over the internet is governed by many factors. The biggest factor is your Internet Service Provider, and in particular, the network bandwidth they provide to your abode. This could also be impacted by the type of network infrastructure (routers, firewalls and servers) that any data travels through en route.

While much of the world’s population enjoy higher speed internet access, many countries lag behind the high speed access rates we enjoy in the UK. If you are looking to extend information sharing with new countries, here are the countries that have the slowest average internet speeds.

  • India – while India has one of the largest populations of internet users (over 121 million) the internet speed in this country is surprisingly low where more than 27% of people using internet have to put up with speeds lower than 256 kbps.
  • Iran – 30% of the internet users are browsing the web with speeds lower than 256 kbps.
  • Nigeria – 31% of internet usage is below the 256 kbps
  • Libya – Around 52% of the total population use internet with speed below 256 kbps 

Last word, and back to the UK. If you put aside everything that is outside of your control, the next biggest inhibitor of fast file transfer is your laptop or PC itself. If it’s old and decrepit it is likely to take a lot longer to process data, and that is the crux. Everything you see on the internet has to be downloaded to your PC in order for you to see it. So an image rich website, and in particular video, requires large chunks of temporary disk space to be allocated before you can see or watch it. If your hard disk is full of junk or previously unneeded temporary files, it must juggle everything about, which in essence, takes time!

So in simple terms, fast file transfer depends on a lot of factors, many of which are beyond your control. Compared to the olden days though, the internet is super-quick so it really is a case of ‘think yourself lucky’. 

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