How Big Is the Internet? Part II: The Size of the Internet Keeps Expanding
Take a look at how we can measure the size of the internet by the number of websites, internet-connected populations, data centers, internet traffic and even IP addresses per country.
A new website is created every three seconds. This means that by the time you are done reading this post, the web will already be bigger. How big? It might be impossible to measure the size of the internet because it is an intangible body. That said, there are many different units of measurement that we can use to try and answer the question of how big is the internet?
In the first part of our report, we looked at how we can size the internet using Internet Protocol addresses. IP addresses surely offer an interesting perspective; however, there are plenty of other viewpoints to look at the size of the internet from. Let’s see how else we can measure the magnitude of the internet today.
Number of websites globally
According to the calculations of Nick Huss, there are around 1.18 billion websites worldwide. However, only around 17% – or 200 million – of these websites are active. So, what is going on with the remaining 83% of websites? Most of these are known as parked domains, which means that a domain name has been registered, but no online service has been connected to it.
Hundreds of thousands of new websites emerge daily. Here’s a closeup.
If we look at the size of the internet from the perspective of how many sites exist, we can presume that the internet continues expanding much like the universe.
Top 7 Websites by Traffic
We can also look at the size of the internet from the perspective of the most popular websites. According to the Most Visited Websites by Traffic in the world report, google.com is by far the most visited website globally.
The search engine giant receives more than 43 billion visits every month and processes 8.5 billion searches daily. Unsurprisingly, the top searched keyword is YouTube, which represents the second most visited website – youtube.com.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the most visited social media platforms, and they take the third, fifth and seventh positions, respectively.
Wikipedia, the biggest online encyclopedia that has 55,533,287 pages and counting, ranks fourth on the list of the most visited websites.
Amazon, the biggest e-commerce platform that processes 1.6 million packages every day, ranks sixth.
Take a look at the infographic below to better visualize the seven most visited websites globally.
The % of the population using the internet
The expansion of the internet across the population is rapid, and as discussed in the Creating a Sustainable Internet Protocol Ecosystem white paper, the number of internet users has grown eightfold in some populations. Undoubtedly, the trajectory will only go upward in the decades to come.
That said, in some populations, the internet has already expanded as much as it is currently possible. According to The World Bank, the internet is accessible to 100% of the populations of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Liechtenstein and Bahrain.
On the flip side, there are still regions where the internet is barely accessible at all. According to The World Bank’s data from 2017, the internet was accessible to 1% of Eritreans and 2% of Somalians. That said, more recent data shows that internet penetration has risen to almost 7% in Eritrea and 12% in Somalia. This means that internet adoption is growing everywhere.
Let’s look at what portions of different populations across the globe access the internet.
Data centers by country
A data center is a physical facility that enables storing, processing and distributing data. Data centers are responsible for both data and applications. And one might argue that the internet is as big as the data centers worldwide.
At the time of publication, Cloudscene listed 8,375 data centers in total. Interestingly, these data centers are distributed very unevenly across the globe. According to Statista, there are 2,751 data centers in the US alone. Germany is second on the list, but it has only 484 data centers.
Of those 8,375 data centers, more than 600 are hyperscalers – data centers that have more than 5,000 servers and are larger than 10,000 square feet.
As we define the size of the internet by the number of data centers, it is important to mention another essential measurement unit – energy expenditure.
According to the European Commission’s Energy-efficient Cloud Computing Technologies and Policies for an Eco-friendly Cloud Market report, the energy consumption of data centers in the EU alone will rise to 98,52 TWh (Terawatt-hour) by 2030, which indicates a 28% increase.
What does this entail? Data centers are likely to expend 3.21% of all electricity by 2030. The number, of course, is even higher as the report excluded the energy expenditure required for cryptocurrency mining and data transmission networks.
According to Nature magazine, data centers expend 200 terawatt-hours yearly, which means that the carbon footprint of data centers can be equated to that of the aviation industry. So, if we use energy expenditure as a unit of measurement, we can state that the internet is as big as the entire aviation industry.
All in all, the rising levels of energy expenditure directly correlate with the amount of data that travels every single day.
Size of the internet in zettabytes
Most computer users are familiar with kilobytes (KB), megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB) – units that measure data storage capacity. However, these units are too small to measure the size of the internet by data traffic. We need to look at terabytes (TB), petabytes (PB), exabytes (EB), zettabytes (ZB) and even yottabytes (YB).
A zettabyte is a unit of storage capacity that is equal to a thousand EBs or a trillion GBs. Yottabyte is the next measurement after zettabyte, and it is equal to a thousand ZBs. We need to understand these measurements to understand the sheer volume of internet traffic.
According to the previously referenced study by Nature magazine, internet traffic grew to 1.1 ZB in 2017. A great leap from just 50 EBs in 2007. However, this leap does not compare with what’s been going on in recent years and what’s predicted in the future.
According to Statista, internet traffic has reached 64 ZBs in 2020 and will reach 180 ZBs by 2025.
IPv4 addresses per country
If we size the internet by IP addresses and then divide the internet by country, it is evident that the biggest chunk of the pie exists in the United States of America. As reported by the World Population Review, 1,541,605,760 IPv4 addresses are allocated in the US.
How significant is that? Considering that there are only 4.29 billion IPv4s in total, almost 36% of all allocations can be linked to the US. China is in second place by IPv4 addresses per country. However, it accounts for a mere 7.7% of the total IPv4 address pool.
Does the US control the size of the internet?
Much like our solar system isn’t the center of the galaxy, so is the United States not the center of the internet. Of course, if we look at the data analyzed in this report, it is evident that the internet is very much concentrated in the US. The west coast of the US, to be exact.
All seven most visited websites belong to companies based in the US. The country has most data centers, including hyperscale data centers. 89% of the US population accesses the internet, and the country even has the most IPv4 addresses per citizen. So, perhaps the question we need to ask is not how big the internet is but how big the internet in the United States of America is.
All in all, if we measure the size of the entire body, it is evident that the internet, much like the universe, is expanding and will continue to expand in the future. More data centers will emerge. Even more websites will be created. More people will access the internet. And more data will be shared, resulting in higher energy expenditure overall.
The only thing that remains constant is the number of IPv4 addresses, of which there are 4.29 billion. As we discussed in the previous part of our internet sizing analysis, it is still possible to expand the IPv4-supported internet. How? By putting unused IPv4 resources up for lease so that new and expanding companies can grow their infrastructures.
However, when it comes to IPs, it is the IPv6 address that will expand the size of the internet. It is widely believed that full IPv6 adoption has a long way to go. In the meantime, the quickest way to support the growth of the internet sustainably is to lease the resources that are already available.
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