March 2019 Middle East Speed Ranking Report

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Summary

In this analysis of speed test results taken in countries in the Middle East during February 2019 we compare download speeds between countries, between MNOs & ISPs within each country and also compare how performance varies across different subsidiaries of the major Telecom Groups.

Key Insights

  • Middle East average download speed: 7.3 Mb/s

  • Turkey, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan have above average download speeds

  • Egypt and Kuwait have the slowest download speeds

  • Vodafone in Qatar, Orange in Jordan and Vodafone Turkey are the fastest amongst MNOs & ISPs with download speeds over 10 Mb/s

  • Inconsistent CDN peering impacts user experience

Country Ranking

Regional average download speed is 7.3 Mb/s.

Turkey (10.7 Mb/s), Qatar (9.0 Mb/s), Bahrain (8.4 Mb/s) and Jordan (8.1 Mb/s) top the chart with above Middle East average download speeds. Egypt (4.4 Mb/s) and Kuwait (5.7 Mb/s) have the poorest performance in our tests. These speeds are represented in the following chart.

compare_download_do

How Telecom Groups Perform in Different Countries

There are a number of international MNOs & ISPs that offer services in more than one Middle East country:

Telecom Group Number of
Countries
Countries

Batelco

2

Bahrain and Jordan

Etisalat

3

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates

Link.Net

2

Egypt and Jordan

Ooredoo

3

Kuwait, Oman and Qatar

Orange

2

Egypt and Jordan

STC / Viva

3

Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

Vodafone

3

Egypt, Qatar and Turkey

Zain

4

Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

Our next chart superimposes the average speed for each country with the speeds for each Telecom Group so that we can see which Groups produce above or below average in each country that they operate in. Each country is given a unique colour in the following chart to allow a visual comparison of speeds for different Telecom Groups in each country.

Most Telecom Groups outperform the average in each country with the following exceptions:

  • Batelco in Jordan

  • Link.net in Jordan and Egypt

  • Ooredoo in Qatar

  • Vodafone in Turkey

  • Zain in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait

provider_groups_colours_circles

Top MNOs & ISPs in each Country

In this section we look at how the most popular MNOs & ISPs perform in each country. The charts are in order of the fastest available download speeds with a consistent scale of up to 16 Mb/s to make comparison easier.

turkey16
qatar16
jordan16
bahrain16
egypt16
oman16
uae16
sa16
kuwait16

SpeedChecker Measurement Methodology

Data Collection

SpeedChecker collected data in all countries during the same period in February 2019 to ensure a fair comparison. We gathered many data points using the crowd sourced data samples collected in the field on mobile devices. During the time the data collection took place, SpeedChecker received over 60,000 data samples and the included statistics and analysis are based on this dataset.

It was important for us to not only measure the real speeds as experienced by the user but also to ensure that we measured to the same point to ensure a fair comparison. For this we included only measurements to one server in Amsterdam. Read the following section “Choice of measurement server” for more about this method.

Choice of measurement server

Every measurement methodology differs in the selection of measured server infrastructure. Some methodologies focus on on-net servers hosted in telecom premises and others focus off-net. SpeedChecker believes off-net servers’ measurements are representing real user experience better than on-net as most of the content accessible by end users lies off-net. Most of the content these days is hosted on CDN networks and the best way to measure most relevant download metrics is to choose popular CDN networks. However, as we learn in this report, not all ISPs and MNOs connect to CDNs directly (or peer) and that has major implications on performance.

One of the main advantages of CDN peering is to improve connection time and download speeds by bringing the content closer to the end user. Before we could analyse the speed results, we considered how widespread peering was and discovered that there was a variation between 0 and 100% use of local servers.

server_use_chart

The chart above shows the percentage of results from each country that are routed via local Middle East Servers, Europe or Asia. Bahrain, Qatar and Oman are all above 50% Middle East server use with Bahrain at 100%. United Arab Emirates and Egypt have a very low use of local servers. In our case we have used the most popular CDN – Cloudflare.

Speeds achieved to local servers were, on average, around 30% faster than speeds routed via European servers but this is not available to the majority of users. Because of the unbalanced availability of this CDN peering we chose to limit our analysis to results from one particular server based in Amsterdam, Europe.


  • No country will have an unfair advantage as would be the case if local servers were used

  • The majority of content is still hosted in Europe which means the download speeds reflect actual usage for most of the content downloaded by the end user

It is acknowledged that the operators in some countries that are peering with CDNs will achieve better results than those shown in this report.

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Analysis of Fibre and 4G Deployment in Riyadh

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This is a report on the state of Fibre and 4G deployment in Riyadh based on data points collected by Speedchecker in September 2018. The report discusses the state of Fibre and Mobile coverage (the extent of coverage and the quality of service) and the Speedchecker Measurement Method. The conclusion shows how Riyadh is placed to take advantage of future improvements to networks.

Current Network Coverage in Riyadh

Summary of Network Coverage

The three main Internet providers in Riyadh are STC, Mobily and Zain. Only STC provide services over 4G, Fibre AND Copper. Mobily offer 4G and Fibre and Zain provide 4G but not Fibre or Copper. Riyadh has excellent 4G coverage and Fibre is well established in the centre of the city and plans are well underway to extend the coverage to the main city areas. Fibre beyond the main city areas is planned but not currently in progress.

coverage_summary

Fibre Coverage

Fibre is widely available across Riyadh particularly in and close to the centre. The map shown below shows that coverage is poor in the South-West of the city and in the rural areas surrounding the city.

Fibre is provided by STC and Mobily with Mobily exclusively covering the South-West and ITC the North-East. Other existing areas are covered jointly by STC and Mobily.

The In Progress areas (yellow on the map) are either STC or ITC with some coverage being provided by Dawiyat.

Zain has no fibre coverage in Riyadh as at October 2018.

riyadh_ftth_coverage

Fibre To The Home (FTTH) Coverage in Riyadh (January 2018)
Source: MCIT (https://www.mcit.gov.sa/en/wbsira-map)

4G Coverage

Riyadh has excellent 4G coverage with 4G being available in all urban districts and along the length of the main roads going into and out of the city.

Speedchecker Measurement Method

Speedchecker uses the billions of data points collected through its passive and active measurement technologies worldwide to provide insights to our customers. This is used by businesses to improve their service and by research establishments to provide invaluable information.

Each data point consists of many KPIs including speed, latency, location, connection type, device info. Our results focus on speed and latency as experienced on the device to provide insightful information on Quality of Service. More detail about the Speedchecker Measurement Method.

This data is then integrated into our customizable map-based dashboards for geospatial analysis.

STC Fibre Coverage

Riyadh has an ongoing plan to implement fibre broadband across the city. Our results clearly show a correlation between the speeds achieved in districts that have fibre and those that do not.

We analysed the fibre results from STC to see if they correlated with the rollout of fibre across Riyadh. Our results on the left show high-speed results in Red / dark orange and slower results in yellow / light orange. These can be compared with the green areas from the MICT rollout plan where fibre is already available and the yellow areas where it is in process. The blue areas show areas that are planned but not yet in process and it is in these areas that the speeds are low.

riyadh_ftth

We are still analysing the results from Mobily fibre and will publish when the analysis is complete.

State of Riyadh Mobile Networks

Speed result data points collected from Riyadh in September 2018 were analysed and allowed the top 3 mobile providers to be compared.

By adding the download speed data to our districts map of Riyadh we can clearly see that STC provided the fastest download speeds followed by Mobily and finally Zain. The maps also show a consistent difference in speeds from district to district. Districts that are the fastest or slowest for one provider tend to be the fastest or slowest for the others even though their actual speeds may vary.

riyadh_mobile_speeds

map_scale_1

 

The following table illustrates the fastest and slowest districts in Riyadh based on the average mobile download speeds. The speeds highlighted in green represent the 5 fastest speeds by provider and the red speeds are the 5 slowest by provider. It is clear from this table and the maps above that STC are getting the fastest mobile speed test results and Zain the slowest.

 

riyadh_districts

Conclusion

Riyadh has excellent 4G coverage provided by STC, Mobily, Zain and other mobile operators. The MCIT (Ministry of Communications and Information Technology) plan for rolling out fibre across Riyadh is well-established and their progress map is accurate.

All 3 companies are providing a good service with STC having more coverage and faster speeds. Our report has highlighted some areas of Riyadh that could need some improvement in service and others that are doing very well. This may inform future plans for infrastructure changes.

This is a good foundation that should ensure Riyadh will be well-placed to continue to take advantage of improvements in technology such as 5G. This will ensure that businesses and residential users can continue to enjoy all the benefits that these advances bring.

logo-smallInterested in more detailed information on the Internet quality and coverage in Middle East and beyond?

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Quality of Service: Lessons from Content Delivery World Conference 2015

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content_deliveryQuality of Service: Lessons from Content Delivery World Conference 2015

CDW 2015: The evolution of content delivery architectures and workflows, and their role in distributing content throughout the globe.

In October 2015 Speedchecker hosted a stand at the Content Delivery World Conference 2015. Featuring  influential speakers from Canal+, Time Warner Cable, Wuaki.tv, Sky, Telecom Italia, BT, Telefonica, Cisco, Freeview and others.

This is a summary of the event from Steve Gledhill (Head of Content, Speedchecker Ltd) with focus on how to improve the Quality of Service for the end user.

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Typical activity between presentations

The Agenda

Content Delivery World 2015 brought together players from across the content delivery ecosystem, enabling the exchange of ideas and innovations and formation of partnerships that will fuel the growth of the content delivery industry, furthering the potential of this multi-billion dollar market.

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Standing room only

Of particular interest was how to measure the Quality of Experience for the end user rather than only the Quality of Service of the suppliers (CDNs, ISPs and Media Providers). Most of the information that we see regarding the performance of Content Delivery focus on latency, bitrate, throughput and other important factors that relate to the efficient data transmission. We were keen to learn from the key players at the conference how they translate these cold figures into a meaningful Quality of Experience. It was heartening to see that QoE was covered in most of the presentations indicating that this is seen as a key factor in improving the industry moving forward.

Measuring Quality of Experience

During a discussion about the need for multi-CDNs (redundancy, control, independence, QoE, peak traffic management) a number of Key Performance Indicators were listed:

  • Availability
  • Throughput
  • Buffer status
  • Routes taken
  • Bandwidth
  • Latency
  • User experience
  • Video impairments
  • Packet loss
  • Concurrent users
  • User viewing patterns

With regards to QoE it was agreed that “quick enough is good enough”; black screens are unacceptable; less than 2 seconds to switch channels is OK.

VTT in Finland have used user panels to discover how much (or how little) latency and buffering will cause their viewers’ QoE to become unacceptable.

Delivering Quality of Experience

Time Warner reported that they have seen a steady 20% annual increase in the growth of IP traffic year on year and they note that 78% of this is video. In order to cope with this steady increase they see a need for TCP Tuning, OS Tuning, NIC Tuning and a general reduction in the protocol overheads. They see the key metrics need to be captured passively and actively and include the monitoring of the system, analysis of logs and simulated clients.

Alcatel made the point that the CDNs need to be more content aware than they are at the present to ensure the highest quality. They also recommend that each CDN end point should be aware of existing cache to prevent unnecessary delays.

Another common discussion was around variable bit rate. For example, Sky Italia use Adaptive Encoding to ensure that users with 2.4 Mbps experience the same quality as those with 9 Mbs using near real-time encoding. This relies on a high quality original input. This bit rate is managed by the Sky CDN Selector at the Edge Server as close as possible to the consumer.

Orange presented some interesting concerns around certain protocols. Their international CDN provides average speeds of 4Mbps but they feel they have a number of issues to contend with. First, they have issues with caching (many presenters referred to caching as being a key area for improvement). Second, they highlighted the HTTPS issues for carriers under HTTP 2.0. Third, the need to be flexible and responsive to changes makes it hard to provide consistently high quality. Finally, they made reference to the Microsoft Smooth Streaming minimum latency requirement being too high to provide live content as they would wish to.

Multicasting

Looking to the future and how to deal with increased demand and higher quality video BT TV talked about Multicasting. They acknowledge that although they can distribute at speeds up to 12GBs at production that they lose control the closer they get to the customer. They have no control over the Home User’s devices or network; their equipment; the wiring in the home or the core/backhaul network all of which can lead to packet loss. Multitasking reduces the number of individual streams required and thus reduces delays and congestion. They can use the application layer to control dropped packets / retransmission and can even use 2 identical streams via different routes to be combined at the receiver in the home thus providing built-in redundancy. Problems are identified by end to end monitoring of the network data and user behaviour. The break-even point for multicasting compared to unicasting is 500 users or more. Quality of Experience is improved in terms of immediacy, quality and
continuity.

Problems with multicasting: Requires Unicast Tunnelling across Gaps where Multicast is not possible; Speeds can fall to slowest bit rate; Unicasting is recommended in the home/office.

Delivering on Mobile

Aventeq predict that by 2020 the average smartphone contract will allow 5Gb of data to be downloaded each month. This confirms that we need to ensure that the user experience for the mobile user is given high priority when considering QoE.

This emphasis was highlighted by EE when they showcased their 4G video offering showing seamless streaming from dense urban areas, to high speed (legal) motorway driving and in to the countryside and forests of England. They say this is possible because of the UK having an average speed over LTE of 20Mbps – the fastest in the World.

EE also took a different approach to improving QoE by not just dealing with latency and speed but with the actual content. They propose giving audiences to live events the option to see a choice of angles and bespoke statistics. This is available in the home but they propose making this available on mobile devices.

CDNs – Content Delivery Networks

CDNs are the backbone of the delivery mechanism and were a common point of discussion and debate throughout the conference

A number of Media providers are using or developing their own CDN (Content Delivery Network) to ensure that they are in control of the users’ QoE. Canal+ in France have 20-25 Free To Air channels and other services that will be transmitted via their own CDN in the next 12 months. Most of their traffic is driven by Live (premium) content and it is important for Canal+ that they maintain a high QoS for this content. They report that their users complain about streaming that doesn’t launch; video quality issues and buffering in roughly equal measure. Their research shows that download speeds of between 2 and 2.5Mbps are acceptable for the QoE of the end user. These speeds are achieved at all times except for the peak times of 7pm and later when problems start. Canal+ plan to provide their content directly to the ISPs instead of using a CDN as is currently the case. This should save money but they also hope that it will improve users’ QoE.

This lead to recommendations for choosing CDNs:

  • Point of Contact if there’s a problem
  • Excellent throughput and latency performance
  • Live content handling
  • Cloud computing support

Net Neutrality, Copyright and DRM

Most of the discussions and presentations dealt with moving the data around as efficiently as possible with no concern with regard to Net Neutrality. That’s not to say that this is ignored but rather, I suggest, that it is acknowledged that best technical practice needs to be modified to comply with regulations in any and all countries. For that matter, DRM and other copyright issues were only touched upon in a few presentations for similar reasons: the focus of the conference was on efficiency and how the technology can be used and improved upon.

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