Is a larger proportion of the population online in Thailand or Hong Kong?
Where is internet adoption highest? Which countries are lagging behind? What does this tell us about access to the internet and investment in internet infrastructure?
How fast is the internet spreading? What is the internet “saturation point”?
In less than two decades, the proportion of the world’s population with access to the internet has swelled from less than 5% (in 2000) to around 47% (about 3.5 billion people) today. Using our dataset – which covers the significant period during which the internet’s user base doubled from around 16% to over 35% – we provide the first accurate estimate of the evolution of the internet’s expansion at monthly intervals, revealing that the internet is spreading much more rapidly than any technology before it.
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- The diffusion of the internet follows an S-shaped process, mimicking the diffusion of technologies like steam engines, electrification and personal computers
- The internet’s diffusion process has an asymptotic limit of 0:32 IPs per person, equating to an average internet “saturation” level of approximately one IP address for a three person household.
- We estimate that the diffusion process’ average time to saturation within a country is just 16.1 years (1%-99%), eclipsing the estimated 100- and 60- year saturation times for steam-power and electrification.
- While several nations already experience saturated internet penetration, others will not reach this point for decades. The country rankings represent different technological development outcomes as well as consequences of large scale government investments or their absentia.
Accordingly, we estimate the temporal dynamics of IP per capita, IP c at 1,647 cities globally as a logistic process IP ct = K 1 + e −α(t−β) , where K, α and β are the asymptotic limit, the gradient and midpoint parameters respectively. We estimate this process as a non-linear mixed-effects model with a stochastic expectation maximisation algorithm (see S1). By doing so, the algorithm is able to learn from the experiences of all countries by treating each country as a deviation (in time and gradient) from a generalised, or average, diffusion process. We find that the internet’s general diffusion process has an asymptotic limit of 0.32 IPs per person, equating to an internet ‘saturation’ level of approximately one IP address for a three person household, on average. Further we estimate that the diffusion process’ average time to saturation within a country is just 16.1 years (1%-99%), eclipsing the estimated 100- and 60- year saturation times for the comparable GPTs of steampower and electrification respectively. Our method also enables the elaboration of individual country experiences of the internet’s penetration (see Table A, S1). Our estimates reveal that whilst several nations already experience saturated internet penetration, others will not reach this point for decades.