One of the most fascinating things I learned after spending a week in Seoul, South Korea was how connected the country is.
There’s free WiFi just about anywhere you go, even at the airport. And if you travel a lot, you know free WiFi at an airport is nearly impossible to come by.
Not only is much of Seoul blanketed in free wireless Internet, but that Internet is much, much faster than what you typically get in the U.S.
Here’s a speed test I conducted at a coffee shop in Seoul using its free WiFi:
Those numbers probably don’t mean much to the average person, but they’re really fast. The download speed, at 47 megabits per second (Mbps), is at least 5 times faster than your typical download speed on a cable modem in the U.S. The upload speed, or the speed you transmit data, is even more impressive. It’s about 50 times faster than your typical cable modem connection.
One megabit is the same as 0.125 megabytes. So that means my connection in Korea let me download at nearly 6 megabytes per second. That’s fast enough to download two MP3 songs in a second.
Here’s what the same test looks like using my Manhattan apartment’s Time Warner Cable connection:
Those speeds on Time Warner are actually faster than average (I’m lucky to have a strong connection), and are more than good enough to handle a bunch of Netflix streaming and casual browsing. But if I want to download a large file like a full-length movie on iTunes, I’ll have to wait a very long time. Meanwhile, the upload speed in my apartment is just sad. It would take forever to upload a large file like a 30-minute home movie to an online storage account like Dropbox.
According to research firm Akamai, the average download speed in the U.S. as of the end of 2013 was just under 10 Mbps. Meanwhile, South Korea boasted the fastest average speed at 22 Mbps. I got much faster speeds in Seoul, likely because it’s a very modern city with great infrastructure.
The good news is average Internet speeds continue to increase in the U.S. every year, according to Akamai. But it’s doing so at a slower rate than other countries. Japan, the Netherlands, and Latvia all have faster average Internet speeds than the U.S.
Disclosure: Samsung paid for a portion of this trip to South Korea for a separate series of stories about the company. It paid for the flight and some meals. Business Insider paid for lodging and all other expenses.