How to predict Internet speeds before you travel

Written and Published February 21, 2016

Quality Internet is important for anyone who works while they are traveling. The freedom to work from wherever you want usually only goes as far as (affordable) quality Internet is a given.

I think of quality Internet with a bandwidth of 10Mbit or better and ping times to US servers under 200ms. That's what I'm looking for when I hear 'WiFi available'. Most hotels in this world are 'on the way' to provide that but often stuck at a much lower level.

Now my experience with chain hotels is a bit better (exception the Doubletree Seychelles Resort Allamanda) since the franchise agreement usually stipulates a minimum connection speed and average speeds per user. The trouble is that when the hotel is at capacity and more than a few users are connect it all breaks down (example Radisson Mexico City).

However hospitality businesses rely on the internet infrastructure around them and their (limited) willingness to invest in speedy connection. Average speeds vary a lot from country to country. At random Starbucks in Japan you may easily exceed 60Mbit and in the Ukraine 30Mbit can be found at most McDonalds free WiFi even. Set this in contrast with Indonesia where even major chain hotels can't muster more than 1 Mbit.

So how can one predict Internet speeds? I recently stumbled upon the Submarine Cable Map which is a map of all those submarine cables that carry the bulk of internet traffic. A wide range of consortia (often Internet providers) have financed these monsters of undersea cables - some go 12,000 miles all the way through the Arctic circle!

The process of laying down these cables is fascinating and this recent Quora answer outlines it in much detail.

As a rule of thumb as more Internet cables connect the place you are about to travel to - as better the internet service will be. This still leaves a lot of unknowns like the countries fiber infrastructure or how the 'last mile' is being serviced but I found the rule of thumb working well.

Africa usually has ridiculously slow Internet - however at the Radisson in Addis Abeba (Review) speeds were amazing and easily around 20Mbit. I would have not been surprised if I would have looked at the map - Ethiopia is a gateway for many undersea cables!

Indonesia has precious few Internet cables connecting the islands - and so is the Internet speed - sloooow.

It's also no apparent why a somewhat remote place like Hawaii has such fast and abundant Internet - many cables route through Hawaii and have an easy time with the tag-on traffic.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule - South Africa is the end point for many Internet cables but has many bandwidth restrictions and therefore slow Internet.

What do you use to predict Internet speeds?