Amazon's Massive Distribution Network in One Giant Visualization
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Amazon’s Massive Distribution Network in One Giant Visualization

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Amazon's Massive Distribution Network in One Giant Visualization

Amazon’s Massive Distribution Network in One Visualization

View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

Last year, Amazon shipped over 5 billion (with a “B”) Prime packages, and the retail giant’s ecommerce market share in the U.S. is on the verge of surpassing 50%.

Moving that kind of volume takes an impressive amount of technical sophistication, manpower, and distribution infrastructure. While Amazon does lean on third parties for deliveries and warehousing, the company is also building an increasingly expansive distribution network in an attempt to manage the entire process.

Today’s visualization, which uses comprehensive data from MWPVL International, examines the estimated 124 million square feet of active space in the U.S., as well as the 40 million in Amazon’s construction pipeline.

To create our graphical footprint of Amazon’s warehouses in the infographic, we’ve used satellite imagery of every Amazon facility in the U.S. and stitched it all together.

Pieces of the Puzzle

There are a few types of facilities that make up the vast network of Amazon’s warehouses:

Crossdock Centers
Containers from foreign vendors can be held at a crossdock facility until more stock is needed at the fulfillment center. This is the back-end of the distribution chain.

Fulfillment Centers
Fulfillment centers are the most common type of facility in Amazon’s distribution empire, but they serve a wide variety of purposes.

Amazon began building its distribution network in 1997, starting with two fulfillment centers in Seattle and Delaware. The two spaces would be tiny compared to today’s standards at 93,000 and 202,000 square feet, respectively. Now, there is nearly 100 million square feet of active fulfillment center space, with another 35 million on the way.

Sortation Centers
These facilities are responsible for sorting packages by zip code which are then typically delivered to USPS sites. Since being introduced in 2014, sortation centers have allowed Amazon to speed up the delivery process and to help control the distribution process up to “the last mile”.

Delivery Stations
In urban areas, delivery stations are often the last step in the chain before packages reach a customer. Courier companies – and increasingly Amazon Flex drivers – typically handle these short-range deliveries. These stations are often located near airports.

Prime Now Hubs
These smaller locations are specifically designed for speed. Prime Now hubs carry a more limited selection of items – including Whole Foods inventory – that are delivered within two hours of clicking “buy”. There are currently around 50 of these facilities in urban areas around the United States, but that number is expected to increase dramatically in the near future.

Prime Air Hub
Amazon doesn’t own its own airport yet, but the recently announced $1.5B international Prime Air Hub is a step in that direction.

The 210-acre parcels will help Amazon expand its Prime Air fleet while reducing its reliance on companies like UPS and FedEx. Kentucky is a natural choice for the hub as there are already 11 fulfillment centers in the state.

Fighting for the Last Mile

Over the years, Amazon has optimized every aspect of the distribution system, but one final hurdle remains.

Conquering the last mile – the final leg before a package reaches its destination – has proven tricky, in part because USPS already has a well-honed strategy for delivering to all the nation’s residents.

The company’s earnest recruitment drive for Amazon Flex is the latest in a long line of attempts to decrease reliance on third parties for package delivery. Also, by tapping into on-demand labor, Amazon hopes to reduce costs and have more flexibility during volume surges like Black Friday.

This desire to own the entire process is being reflected in the company’s roster of distribution facilities. The massive fulfillment centers aren’t going anywhere, but we may see a lot more smaller delivery hubs in cities and towns across America.

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The World’s Most Used Apps, by Downstream Traffic

Of the millions of apps available around the world, just a small handful of the most used apps dominate global internet traffic.

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The World’s Most Used Apps by Downstream Traffic Share

The World’s Most Used Apps, by Downstream Traffic

Of the millions of apps available around the world, just a small handful of the most used apps dominate global internet traffic.

Everything connected to the internet takes bandwidth to view. When you look at something on your smartphone—whether it’s a new message on Instagram or the next few seconds of a YouTube video—your device is downloading the data in the background.

And the bigger the files, the more bandwidth is utilized. In this chart, we break down of the most used apps by category, using Sandvine’s global mobile traffic report for 2021 Q1.

Video Drives Global Mobile Internet Traffic

The biggest files use the most data, and video files take the cake.

According to Android Central, streaming video ranges from about 0.7GB per hour of data for a 480p video to 1.5GB per hour for 1080. A 4K stream, the highest resolution currently offered by most providers, uses around 7.2GB per hour.

That’s miles bigger than audio files, where high quality 320kbps music streams use an average of just 0.12GB per hour. Social network messages are usually just a few KB, while the pictures found on them can range from a few hundred KB for a low resolution image to hundreds of MB for high resolution.

Understandably, breaking down mobile downstream traffic by app category shows that video is on top by a long shot:

CategoryDownstream Traffic Share (2021 Q1)
Video Streaming48.9%
Social Networking19.3%
Web13.1%
Messaging6.7%
Gaming4.3%
Marketplace4.1%
File Sharing1.3%
Cloud1.1%
VPN and Security0.9%
Audio0.2%

Video streaming accounts for almost half of mobile downstream traffic worldwide at 49%. Audio streaming, including music and podcasts, accounts for just 0.2%.

Comparatively, social network and web browsing combined make up one third of downstream internet traffic. Games, marketplace apps, and file sharing, despite their large file sizes, only require one-time downloads that don’t put as big of a strain on traffic as video does.

A Handful of Companies Own the Most Used Apps

Though internet traffic data is broken down by category, it’s worth noting that many apps consume multiple types of bandwidth.

For example, messaging and social network apps, like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat, allow consumers to stream video, social network, and message.

Even marketplace apps like iTunes and Google Play consume bandwidth for video and audio streaming, and together account for 6.3% of total mobile downstream traffic.

But no single app had a bigger footprint than YouTube, which accounts for 20.4% of total global downstream bandwidth.

CategoryTop Apps (Category Traffic)Category Traffic Share
Video StreamingYouTube47.9%
Video StreamingTikTok16.1%
Video StreamingFacebook Video14.6%
Video StreamingInstagram12.1%
Video StreamingNetflix4.3%
Video StreamingOther5.0%
Social NetworkingFacebook50.5%
Social NetworkingInstagram41.9%
Social NetworkingTwitter2.4%
Social NetworkingOdnoklassniki1.9%
Social NetworkingQQ0.7%
Social NetworkingOther2.9%
MessagingWhatsApp31.4%
MessagingSnapchat16.5%
MessagingFacebook VoIP14.3%
MessagingLINE12.1%
MessagingSkype4.1%
MessagingOther21.6%
WebGoogle41.2%
WebOther58.8%

The world’s tech giants had the leading app in the four biggest data streaming categories. Alphabet’s YouTube and Google made up almost half of all video streaming and web browsing traffic, while Facebook’s own app, combined with Instagram and WhatsApp, accounted for 93% of global social networking traffic and 45% of messaging traffic.

Traffic usage by app highlights the data monopoly of tech giants and internet providers. Since just a few companies account for a majority of global smartphone internet traffic, they have a lot more bartering power (and responsibility) when it comes to our general internet consumption.

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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

Smartphones can contain ~80% of the stable elements on the periodic table. This graphic details the critical metals you carry in your pocket.

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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

In an increasingly connected world, smartphones have become an inseparable part of our lives.

Over 60% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone and smartphone adoption continues to rise in developing countries around the world.

While each brand has its own mix of components, whether it’s a Samsung or an iPhone, most smartphones can carry roughly 80% of the stable elements on the periodic table.

But some of the vital metals to build these devices are considered at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, and other factors.

Smartphone PartCritical Metal
Touch Screen indium
Displaylanthanum; gadolinium; praseodymium; europium; terbium; dysprosium
Electronicsnickel, gallium, tantalum
Casingnickel, magnesium
Battery lithium, nickel, cobalt
Microphone, speakers, vibration unit nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium

What’s in Your Pocket?

This infographic based on data from the University of Birmingham details all the critical metals that you carry in your pocket with your smartphone.

1. Touch Screen

Screens are made up of multiple layers of glass and plastic, coated with a conductor material called indium which is highly conductive and transparent.

Indium responds when contacted by another electrical conductor, like our fingers.

When we touch the screen, an electric circuit is completed where the finger makes contact with the screen, changing the electrical charge at this location. The device registers this electrical charge as a “touch event”, then prompting a response.

2. Display

Smartphones screens display images on a liquid crystal display (LCD). Just like in most TVs and computer monitors, a phone LCD uses an electrical current to adjust the color of each pixel.

Several rare earth elements are used to produce the colors on screen.

3. Electronics

Smartphones employ multiple antenna systems, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi.

The distance between these antenna systems is usually small making it extremely difficult to achieve flawless performance. Capacitors made of the rare, hard, blue-gray metal tantalum are used for filtering and frequency tuning.

Nickel is also used in capacitors and in mobile phone electrical connections. Another silvery metal, gallium, is used in semiconductors.

4. Microphone, Speakers, Vibration Unit

Nickel is used in the microphone diaphragm (that vibrates in response to sound waves).

Alloys containing rare earths neodymium, praseodymium and gadolinium are used in the magnets contained in the speaker and microphone. Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium are also used in the vibration unit.

5. Casing

There are many materials used to make phone cases, such as plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even gold. Commonly, the cases have nickel to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and magnesium alloys for EMI shielding.

6. Battery

Unless you bought your smartphone a decade ago, your device most likely carries a lithium-ion battery, which is charged and discharged by lithium ions moving between the negative (anode) and positive (cathode) electrodes.

What’s Next?

Smartphones will naturally evolve as consumers look for ever-more useful features. Foldable phones, 5G technology with higher download speeds, and extra cameras are just a few of the changes expected.

As technology continues to improve, so will the demand for the metals necessary for the next generation of smartphones.

This post was originally featured on Elements

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