The Internet does sleep – just not in America

Does the Internet ever sleep? Not if you live in America: A new paper from James Heidemann and his colleagues at the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California shows that in the U.S., relentless online participation is not just an inevitability during normal waking hours, whether you’re a 3 a.m. news junkie or you work for a corporate office where antivirus software updates at night.

But there are places where the Internet does sleep, as ISI discovered by tracking more than 500 million public Internet Protocol addresses throughout the world.

Heidemann and his colleagues looked at variations and patterns in public IP activity around the globe over 24-hour periods. Naturally, there are times when connection surges or wanes throughout a day, but after accounting for daily schedules, the researchers found that ebbs and spikes are more likely to occur in particular places. Some parts of the world have stable, continually active IPs, with less than 5 percent change over the course of a day, whereas in Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America, IP activity increases during the day and decreases during the night.

Variation is greater in countries with lower per-capita GDP and electricity use, Heidemann found – unsurprising, since a poorer consumer would likely have less constant access. She might go to an Internet cafe, which may be open for service only during certain hours, or she might turn off her home Internet connection at night to save on fees.

By contrast, in the rich economies of Western Europe and North America, modems are generally left constantly running, though you might shut off your computer. Infrastructure and governance make a difference, too: Places with “Internet maturity,” the researchers note, are marked by network access that is always on.

(Part of the FCC’s definition of “broadband” is a telecommunications system where a network is available at any time.)

Moreover, there is greater commercial connectivity in rich economies as compared to poor ones. While people access the Internet mostly during the day, Martin Libicki of the RAND Corp. points out that machine access is mostly at night – a company backing up its data into a cloud, say, or running algorithms for procurement is more efficient when there are fewer human users around. More of those activities probably contribute to keeping IP activity consistent over 24 hours.

The research cannot tell us exactly why IP activity stays steady in the West and regularly cycles in emerging economies. But a comparison of Internet robustness and usage between richer and poorer regions suggests the lack of quality and universality are the two big reasons for variation. A mere 19 percent of Indians have Internet access, compared with 86 percent of Americans and more than 90 percent of Estonians, who declared Internet access a human right in 2000.

According to Heidemann’s study, Estonia’s Internet use is consistent – unlike much of Eastern Europe.

Renesys, an Internet security firm, ranks China and countries in Eastern Europe and South America to be at greater risk of connectivity outages.