Those of us who spend the majority of our waking hours on the Internet have developed some pretty iron-clad expectations. We want to get where we are going quickly. We no longer tolerate slow-loading Web pages. We start rolling our eyes if that Microsoft flag waves too long or the little blue E on our browser revolves more than twice. Dont break my surfing rhythm and do not make me wait.
There is a reason many studies show broadband users spend more time online on any given day than those with dial-up connections. We need the speed and, ironically, we dont get in, get out and move on, but rather go more places for longer stretches of time than our frustrated compatriots using dial-up who find their minds wandering while waiting for everything to load with a slow connection.
A speedier Internet means more productivity, more windows can be open and more tasks can be juggled simultaneously. Thats the message Andy King conveys through his monthly Bandwidth Report, published online at www.websiteoptimization.com/bw, where he reports on the speed of our connections, both at work and at home.
Q: Your October Bandwidth Report shows that broadband adoption is breaking 40 percent in the U.S. What are your thoughts on that?
King: Its great! Its an important time since it shows broadband is really making headway.
Q: Your Bandwidth Report growth chart predicts it will grow to 70 percent in just a year or so.
King: I do some extrapolation on the growth chart. Im an engineer so I like doing that kind of thing. If you look at July-August 2005 we could be at 70 percent, assuming it grows at the same rate. Its safe to say this coming summer well break 50 percent.
What I found looking at other countries is there seems to be a saturation level. Korea says theyre approaching 70 percent, depending on whom you talk to, and theyre reaching saturation. There are a few outposts and rural areas that just arent going to get hooked up unless they get a satellite dish.
Q: What other things do you see holding up the adoption of broadband?
King: I think the main thing is price and complexity. The price keeps going down, which is good, but its sort of a teaser price. They will give it to you for six months and then they will bump it up to $49.95. Thats a good chunk of change. Also, some folks are having trouble hooking up. Cable seems to be much simpler. Thats why cable has twice the penetration in the U.S. as DSL does. I think the simpler they can make it, the faster it will propagate.
Q: People in rural areas are anxious for broadband but it is just not available to them. Will there be a point when broadband is in every area?
King: Im not sure theyre going to be everywhere. I dont think you will be able to get it at the bottom of Death Valley any time soon. They are focusing on where they can get the most bang for their buck. Its really a last-mile problem. We actually have a cottage up in Canada and the only way we can get broadband is to get a satellite dish.
Q: How is satellite as an option for people? Is it exponentially expensive?
King: Actually the price keeps going down. Satellite dishes offer fairly good download speeds. Upload speeds are different story. The best option is to have broadband wired directly into your home.
Q: Wireless is a big frontier opportunity for broadband as we look into the future. Do you see wireless starting to pick up steam or will the United States be the backwater of wireless broadband compared to the rest of the world?
King: Yes. They are definitely ahead of us overseas. But if Starbucks and McDonalds have their way, well have wireless everywhere.
Q: Your Bandwidth Report offers a sort of world tour. Tell us why the world is picking up on broadband a little bit faster than the U.S.
King: If you go to the Pacific Rim, Korea, Hong Kong, youll see they have higher penetration rates than we do. Canada is well ahead of us, too. They were at 60 percent broadband penetration just a few months ago. Thailand is up there, too, as is Denmark and Belgium. In my September Bandwidth Report (websiteoptimization.com/bw/0309), I have a chart from the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). Iceland is even ahead of us, believed or not.
Q: Why are these other countries adopting broadband faster than we are?
King: Some countries realized it is a strategic advantage to do this, so theyve gotten a bit of a head start on us. I think theyve relaxed some government regulations and done some subsidies. It is a combination of things.
Also, if you look at other countries, DSL has kind of slipped. In the U.S., cable has twice the penetration of DSL. But if you go to Korea, its all DSL. Thats how they get connected. Theyve also made it simpler to connect.
Q: Still, 56k modems are popular with 49.7 percent in the U.S. Most people are getting online with a dial-up connection.
King: Yes. If you add up all the modems its about 60 percent. Its amazing that 3 percent are still using a 14.4k modem. I still have some in the drawer. People are welcome to buy them from me! But some folks dont have much of a choice. They cant upgrade or maybe they are in a school with donated computers or maybe they are using a wireless phone that gets 9600 baud. You really have to design Websites for the worst-case scenario. Thats why I did that the bandwidth report – because there was so much data out there but I didnt see any good numbers or charts. So I publish reports so that people know that not everyone is on broadband at least in the U.S.
Q: You wrote a book called Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization. Why is it important for Webmasters to go through the process of making their side optimized for download? What are some of the benefits?
King: No matter what your bandwidth, people are only willing to wait a certain amount for your site to download before they get frustrated and want to go do something else. To boil it down, people hate to wait. My background as an engineer is in the optimization of structures. So its kind of a natural extension to apply that efficiency to the Web. The first part of the book talks about psychology and creates a need, so you can show that part to your boss. It summarizes all the research out there that shows slow download speeds are the most popular complaint of people surfing the Internet. It really doesnt matter what your bandwidth is you just dont want to wait! People wait eight to 10 seconds. After that, peoples eyes glaze over and they start thinking about other things. It has to do with how are short-term memory works. As your are going through the Web, you get into a sort of flow. If youre working on a fast series of web sites, you get into a rhythm and when you run into a slow site, it disrupts your train of thought and its really distracting.
For more conversation with Andy King, the full audio interview is available at WebTalkGuys.com. His Website is at www.websiteoptimization.com and www.speedupyoursite.com.
Dana Greenlee is co-host/producer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.