It’s no secret that broadband Internet in the US has substantially lagged behind several countries including Japan, Sweden, and South Korea.
It’s one thing to be appalled by the reality. But it’s quite another matter to experience the difference firsthand. And experience this I certainly did – on a recent trip to Japan.
Upon checking into my hotel in Tokyo, I logged onto the house Wi-Fi network with my given password. And then… I was stunned.
Quite honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced Internet service so fast and brisk, and on a wireless connection no less. Online video streaming was virtually instantaneous with infinitesimal buffering latency. And the impressively fast access was consistent at all times, day and night.
I got incredibly fast Internet service at the two hotels I stayed in Tokyo, plus during my visit to Kyoto. No lag, no hesitation, ever.
And none of that annoying nonsense you normally get with hotel Wi-Fi service in the US, like having to wait 30-60 seconds for a special login screen to pop up so you can enter your room number, last name, and password – and then having to repeat this ritual every 24 hours.
And too, none of this BS with having to pay for “premium” Wi-Fi just for the privilege of watching Netflix. In Japan, superfast Internet always came standard with our hotel room rates. To go online, all you do is select the proper SSID and enter the password, just as you would on any normal Wi-Fi network.
Japan currently ranks No. 8 among the countries with the highest average Internet access speeds, according to the latest Akamai State of the Internet report. (South Korea is No. 1 – having held the top ranking for many years.) To be fair, things have been improving in the US, rising from No. 16 in 2016 to No. 10 in 2017.
But there’s another factor that plays into reliable Wi-Fi throughput. Hotels in Japan seem to care a lot more about optimizing coverage with a sufficient density of access points. Yes, the more access points you install, the more it costs, but you also deliver great service and customer satisfaction. Both are traditional hallmarks of Japanese business philosophy.
No Comparison from the San Francisco Bay Area
This very impressive Internet accessibility in Japan is all the more striking considering the many lackluster experiences I’ve had with hotels in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Let me be honest here. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything better than mediocre Wi-Fi connection speeds.
Oftentimes, really, it’s been pretty poor, especially in the heart of downtown SF. In San Jose, where I frequently travel for work, the hotel Wi-Fi is just reasonably good enough for getting work done in the evenings. Maybe I just haven’t found the right places yet.
Still, this distinction in observations between the Bay Area and Tokyo is notable, considering we’re talking about Silicon Valley, the region that “feeds the world with technology.”
Mobile Internet is Impressive Too
I bought a mobile data roaming package for my trip to Japan, and was very happy with the cellular Internet service experienced there. In Tokyo, access was consistent and reliable even during peak business hours, a stark difference from what I’ve experienced in New York and San Francisco where things would basically slow to an agonizing crawl. You had to wait until the evenings or weekends to get decent access.
Because of the easy and reliable mobile service we had in Japan, finding restaurants, subway stations, and other points of interest was smooth and efficient. We could also quickly research specific places to shop, and navigate our way around Kyoto and its historic temples. The mobile Internet became our friend, and at times, our savior.
Why is Internet access better (and also more affordable) in countries outside of the US? It comes down to this morass: lack of meaningful competition, intense lobbying, priority toward shareholder interests, ideological struggles, political infighting, bureaucratic entanglements, and so on.
Once you experience superfast Internet in Japan, South Korea, or elsewhere, you’re instantly smitten, but also seething with annoyance at the reality that at home, we’re technologically constrained.