Canadian broadband slow, expensive: Ookla

03 Dec

This picture will make sense by the end of the post.

The folks at Ookla have released their latest Net Index broadband comparisons, so we all know what that means: it’s time for Fun With Charts (patent pending)! It’s also time for bad news for Canada, which is something that anyone who follows this stuff should be used to by now. But first, a note on Ookla’s methodology.

The Seattle-based company bills its results as more accurate than similar reports because of the billions of tests it has accumulated from broadband users around the world. While other organizations such as Akamai measure the speed and quality of content traveling across internet connections, Ookla says its methods are more fulsome. From its website:

Our download speed results tend to report higher than others for one very simple reason: We use a sophisticated method to completely ‘fill the pipe’ while others do a mere basic replication of what speeds you might see if you download a large file from a web site. This inferior method fails to take into account that even a single computer can and usually is performing multiple downloads of one type or another simultaneously, not to mention that many connections have more than one computer or device utilizing the bandwidth available.

Personally, I’m a fan of Ookla’s various measuring tools. The first thing I do when trying a new wi-fi connection is fire up its Speedtest app to get an idea of what I’m dealing with (I’m a nerd that way). Are its results better than others? That’s hard to say, but as a frequent user I’m inclined to respect them.

So, let’s start with the lone bit of good news for Canadians. According to the Net Index, broadband subscribers here are generally getting what they pay for. Canada ranks 24th out of 64 countries, with 94 per cent of connections getting their promised speed – that’s comfortably above the world average of 87 per cent. But Canada looks even better when compared to peer countries. Among the 32 countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development measured, it ranks ninth. Among the six G7 nations represented, Canada is first, although both Japan and South Korea are strangely missing from all but the straight-up speed measures. Check out the chart:

ookla-promiseWhile Ookla is just one source of measurement and therefore shouldn’t be taken as gospel, this is certainly good news for consumers. It also suggests that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is wasting its time on trying to get internet providers to match their advertised speeds. I’ve written before that the CRTC has bigger fish to fry and Ookla’s numbers seem to back that up.

Speaking of, just because Canadians are by-and-large getting their advertised speeds, that doesn’t mean they’re getting quality connections. Ookla measures something called R-factor, which is a gauge of ping or latency, or how much lag there is in a connection. Here, Canada’s performance is woeful with its R-factor of 82.47 falling below the world average of 84.54. Moreover, Canada ranks 22nd out of 28 OECD countries measured and last of the six G7 countries counted.

ookla-qualityIf there is one measure in which a large geography can partially be used as an excuse for a poor result, this would probably be it. Latency is generally a result of distances between households and their internet service providers’ central connection points, which are obviously longer in countries where the populations are more spread out. Even still, it’s worth noting that several other large countries including Russia and the United States do better than Canada in this measure. It’s also worth pointing out that latency generally determines the performance levels of many online services that compete with telecom company offerings, such as Skype and Netflix.

That brings us to the really bad news: speeds. In downloads, Canada ranks 38th overall with an average speed of 18.95 megabits per second, which is a bit above the world average of 16.26 Mbps. However, among the 34 OECD countries, Canada ranks toward the bottom at 23rd. Among the full G7, only Italy has slower download speeds.


This isn’t to say that fast download speeds don’t exist in Canada. They do, but they’re expensive – more on that below. Keep in mind that Ookla is measuring the speeds of real users; there are undoubtedly some super-fast users counted in Canada, but most connections are slower.

Things are even worse overall when it comes to upload speeds. Canada’s 4.91 Mbps average places 59th overall, worse than the world average of 7.14 Mbps and below such broadband “heavyweights” as Namibia, Laos and Papua New Guinea. Canada is also below the OECD average of 5.81 Mbps and the G8 average of 8.34 Mbps.


While latency and download are important to real-time services such as Netflix, YouTube and Skype, upload speeds are key for cloud functions such as Dropbox, iCloud or Google Drive. Slow uploads inevitably mean slow adoption and less usage of these services.

So how does Canada do in pricing? Well, in terms of per megabit per second, the country is pretty middle of the pack. At $3.61 per Mbps, that ranks well compared to the world average of $7.02, and better than the OECD average of $4.40 and the G8 average of $4.08.


Of course, that measure doesn’t tell the whole story. For one thing, the more expensive developing countries do much to weigh down the global average, with one megabit per second costing in excess of $30 in the likes of Venezuela, the Philippines and South Africa.

A more accurate picture emerges when looking at what people pay for broadband overall in comparison to gross domestic product per capita – in other words, how much of their overall wealth is being spent on their internet connection. By these numbers, Canada is worse, ranking middle of the pack in the OECD but last out of the six G7 members represented:


While much attention has been paid of late to Canada’s wireless industry, the Net Index report is another indicator that things are not well on the wired broadband side either. When the two sides are put together, a relatively clear picture emerges – the same companies that have been criticized for high cellphone prices and poor customer service are also doling out home broadband connections that are slower, lower-quality and more expensive than those in many peer countries.

It’s not just Ookla’s results that are suggesting this. As the OECD’s Communications Outlook reported this past summer, Canada’s wireless and wired broadband prices are all high when compared to developed countries:


In terms of advancing wired broadband services over time, Google has some fun visualizations to look at. Here’s how download speeds have tracked among OECD countries since 2008. Notice that Canada is hanging in there toward the bottom:


And the same goes for upload speeds:


Whew. That’s an awful lot of charts. It’s also an awful lot of smoke. If Canada’s telecom sector were a house, you can bet the fire department would be out in full force by now. Perhaps that’s why the federal government has taken such a strong interest in the sector.


Posted by on December 3, 2013 in internet


3 responses to “Canadian broadband slow, expensive: Ookla

  1. Ben Klass

    December 3, 2013 at 12:30 am

    A. Stellar work.
    B. What on Earth happened in Luxembourg in the beginning of this year?
    C. Latency is actually more accurately described as a function of hops (i.e how many switches a signal must pass through) between sender and receiver, which itself is a somewhat indirect function of geographical distance.

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