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lies & spin





section heading icon     traffic

This page examines internet traffic flows.

It covers

subsection heading icon     introduction 

The 2005 report from telco statistics specialist TeleGeography claimed "maturation" of the global information infrastructure (GII) and the net, suggesting that global cross-border internet traffic grew by 49% in 2005, down from 103% in 2004. The fastest growing regions - Asia (76%) and Latin America (70%) - produced only modest traffic growth by the standards of previous years. As of mid-2005 the combined average traffic on all cross-border backbone routes was just under 1 Terabit per second (Tbps), projected to range from 2 to 3 Terabits per second by 2008.

That is a long way from the giddy 1990s, when pundits proclaimed that domestic/international traffic was doubling every hundred days and - more importantly - would continue to do so into the forseeable future. Such proclamations fuelled the dot-com bubble.

subsection heading icon     attention

Preceding pages have highlighted the problematical nature of many estimates about who is online and what they are doing.

In 2004 Nielsen-NetRatings claimed that during May the average domestic surfer went online
30 times (for an overall time of 24 hours 16 minutes), encountering 1,013 web pages. The number of page views per session was supposedly 34, with a mere 45 sessions being spent at each page.

In June 2004 the top Australian 'residential user' destinations for Nielsen's population were

Microsoft (6.3m people for 2hrs 19m)
Google (4.2m for 30m)
Yahoo! (3.2m for 1hr 17m)
Telstra (2.5m for 18m)
eBay (2.2m for 1hr 41m)
Time Warner (1.9m for 1hr 13m)
the Federal Government (1.9m for 24m)
News Corporation (1.5m for 25m)
Fairfax (1.3m for 21m)
Commonwealth Bank (1.3m for 50m)

Other metrics vendors have produced strikingly different figures and there is disagreement about the interpretation of 'agreed' data.

It has for example been claimed that Telstra and Microsoft get high rankings because MSN and BigPond are default home pages and because time is spent downloading the latest patch, searching directories or chatting.

subsection heading icon     bandwidth hogs

Figures on the percentage of overall traffic attributable to particular content are contentious, with for example claims that P2P users account for most of the data flowing over the net.

In 2007 for example, as part of lobbying for FCC regulations to require ISPs to more closely police their networks for copyright infringements, NBC Universal complained that the US government was "standing by mutely" while the net was being "hijacked by bandwidth hogs." It claimed that P2P accounted for 60% to 70% of all internet traffic (with 90% of P2P traffic involving violation of copyright).

That assertion was questioned. One 'broadband optimisation service' claimed that http traffic had overtaken P2P traffic, accounts for around 46% of all traffic with P2P at 37%, followed by newsgroups (9%), non-http video streaming (3%), gaming (2%) and VoIP (1%). Supposedly streaming video represents 36% of all http traffic and streaming audio 5%, with YouTube accounting for 20% of all http traffic ("around 10% of all traffic on the Internet").

In 2007 German traffic management specialist ipoque claimed that P2P applications account from between 50% and 90% of all iInternet traffic, with BitTorrent involving between 50% to 75% of all P2P traffic and Skype responsible for as much as 2% of traffic in some areas. Ellacoya Networks claimed that P2P traffic accounts for 37% of North American traffic, compared with 46% for http traffic (of which a third consisted of streaming video).

subsection heading icon     traffic maps and directions 

gTLD spaces (ie .com, .net, .org and .edu) continue to account for more than half of destinations. Percentages for late 2000 are as follows:

graphic of where people surf to - overwhelmingly the US

Akamai features an internet news mapping service that identifies current appetite for news relative to average daily demand in terms of millions of visits to 100 major news sites per minute, per week, within six geographic regions.

subsection heading icon     studies 

The Geography of Cyberspace project supplies extensive maps and diagrams that represent Internet traffic, the geographical distribution of hosts and other features of cyberspace. It also offers a useful bibliography.

For pointers to the direction of traffic and growth patterns why not explore the Hoffman & Novak research from Vanderbilt Uni about the Web in 1995, the links on Hal Varian's site, Matthew Zook's The Geography of the Internet Industry (Oxford: Blackwell 2005) and his 1998 paper on The Web of Consumption: The Spatial Organization of the Internet Industry in the US for maps of Internet traffic, the geographical distribution of hosts and other features of cyberspace?

Netgraphs provides pointers for statistics buffs.  The Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) has a large range of papers and reports on bandwidth, transfer pricing and the nitty gritty of traffic between telcos and ISPs

Martin Dodge, leading cybergeographer, has an excellent introduction to mapping traffic and co-authored the outstanding Mapping Cyberspace (London: Routledge 2000), which has a companion site.

The Electronic Space Project (Espace) at Michigan State University complements the Geography project. We recommend Information Tectonics: Space, Place & Technology In An Electronic Age (New York: Wiley 2000) a collection of papers edited by Mark Wilson & Kenneth Corey and the associated maps of hosts and access to telecommunications. 

Matthew Zook's 1998 paper The Web of Consumption: The Spatial Organization of the Internet Industry in the US provides a striking demonstration of how the supposedly 'spaceless' Internet industry is clustering in specific geographical locations, in particular New York, LA and San Francisco. It is complemented by NY University's project on information technology and the future of the urban environment, in particular the mapping. 

Zook's mapping should not be a surprise to anyone who has considered the location of the major newspapers, broadcasters and publishers, though there's a more elaborate analysis in Tendencies & Tensions of the Information Age: The Production & Distribution of Information in the United States (New Brunswick: Transaction 1997) by Jorge Schement & Terry Curtis, building on Fritz Machlup's pathbreaking Knowledge, Its Creation, Distribution & Economic Significance (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 1984).

If price is not a consideration consult TeleGeography 2000 - Hubs & Spokes: A telegeography internet reader (Washington: Telegeography 2000) a detailed report from the consultancy of the same name. It is of particular interest for its effort to map the various forecasts made by Forrester, Jupiter, eMarketer and others.

We have pointed to other visualisation activity in the final page of this guide. 

subsection heading icon     'hottest' sites and search terms 

Most search engines provide periodic reports on the 'most popular' search terms and searches, as distinct from destinations.

They are discussed in a supplementary note that complements the more detailed examination of online search behaviour.

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version of September 2007
© Bruce Arnold
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