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Surprise! More Internet Bandwidth Leads to Worse User Experiences

By Wayan Vota on December 22, 2016

In rural developing communities, access is often provided through slow satellite or other low- bandwidth long-distance wireless links, if available at all. As a result, the quality of Internet access is often poor and, at times, unusable.

Internet Bandwidth Upgrade: Implications on Performance and Usage in Rural Zambia shows the performance and usage implications of an Internet access upgrade, from a 256 Kbps satellite link to a 2 Mbps terrestrial wireless link in rural Zambia. Our work builds on our prior study of rural networks’ performance and presents the first real-world comparative study of pre- and post-upgrade Internet use and performance.

Our results show that while use did not change immediately, application performance improved. The Internet access upgrade broadened users’ abilities to access content, use online applications, and express themselves on the Internet.

As time passed, however, subscribers began to change their Internet usage behavior, which ultimately resulted in network performance degradation and a subsequent deterioration of the user experience.

In particular, we show that as bandwidth increased, users aggressively tried to access more bandwidth-hungry applications such as P2P download.

This change in use resulted in a dramatic deterioration of network performance, whereby the average round-trip time doubled, the number of bytes associated with failed uploads increased by 222% and failed downloads by 91%. As their attempts failed, users reverted to using predominantly low-bandwidth HTTP web browsing.

The results of our fresh analysis make a strong case that one should not assume that advanced technologies and higher access speed lead to a better user experience and increased adoption of the Internet in rural communities; rather, one should carefully consider the evolution of use and performance so as to assess the actual impact and adoption of Internet technologies.

An Internet access upgrade in the context of developing rural regions is not a trivial task. Although such upgrades are perceived to lead to improved performance and user experience, this is not always the case for communities that are largely bandwidth impaired.

In such communities, an Internet upgrade can be only a small increment to the more substantial access speed needed to accommodate modern web content and applications. Each such increment gives users the ability to more fully use the modern Internet with bandwidth-intensive applications; however, it is clear that in some developing regions, even an eight-fold increase in network capacity is insufficient.

Many rural communities such as Macha have a long way to go before their Internet experience parallels that of users in the Western world.

By Mariya Zheleva, Paul Schmitt, Morgan Vigil, Elizabeth Belding

Filed Under: Connectivity
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Written by
Wayan Vota is a digital development entrepreneur and the co-founder of ICTworks. He also co-founded ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, Technology Salon, JadedAid, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things.
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