Meqyas, Q1 2019 Report

Key findings

1st January 2019 – 31st March 2019

This report focuses on an overview of the fixed-line and mobile internet performance across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. To achieve the data collection necessary for these reports, SamKnows and the CITC have been collecting data from hardware probes and smartphone apps across the Kingdom for over a year. Tests this quarter on both fixed-line and mobile provided a robust number of samples in order to allow the following analysis.

Saudi Arabia's mobile broadband providers delivered users with average download speeds of 32.2Mbps during the first quarter of 2019, and upload speeds of 13.1Mbps, representing a respective increase of 12.2% for download, and a decrease of 3% in upload compared to the last quarter of 2018. Both download and upload speeds remained high, and characteristic of a good mobile broadband network.

Download speeds over fixed-line broadband networks achieved 85% performance compared to advertised speeds during the first quarter of 2019, improving by 0.8 percentage points compared to the 84.2% performance average of Q4 2018. Upload performance also posted a similar improvement, increasing to 93% from the previous quarter's 92.2%.

Mobile results

1st January 2019 – 31st March 2019

Mobile download speeds ranged from a low average of 33.7Mbps in February to a high of 35.7Mbps in March, with 4G download speeds remaining high and above 33Mbps throughout the quarter. 3G speeds were especially notable as they showed a good improvement from the 6.9Mbps maximum seen in November 2018, to a maximum of 7.3Mbps in March.

Mobile upload speeds were relatively constant throughout the quarter, with a maximum of 14.2Mbps in February for 4G connections, which was followed by a slight dip to 13.8Mbps in March. These speeds, however, were markedly lower than last quarter's maximum of 15.1Mbps during October. The overall average mirrored 4G speeds with a maximum upload of 13.3Mbps in February and a subsequent decrease to 13.0Mbps in March. Upload speeds over 3G connections were steady at a range of 2.4Mbps to 2.5Mbps for the quarter, showing a minor improvement from the 2.3Mbps peak seen in December 2018.

The chart above shows average mobile download speeds by operator and access technology. STC continued to deliver 4G users with the highest average speeds of 38Mbps, showing an increase from last quarter's 35.2Mbps. Mobily and Zain, however, showed good gains, improving by a respective 18.5% and 19% from the 25.9Mbps and 24.7Mbps download seen in Q4 2018. Mobily continued to deliver the highest 3G download speeds, and was closely followed by STC at 7.3Mbps, which was the most improved at nearly +9% from last quarter's 6.7Mbps. Zain, by contrast, saw 3G average download speed decrease by 10% from the 5.5Mbps seen in Q4 2018.

Mobile upload speeds on 4G saw remained high, with STC continuing to deliver the highest at an average of 15.2Mbps, however this represents a decrease of 7.3% compared to the previous quarter. Zain followed at 13.2Mbps, showing an improvement of 3.1% compared to the 12.8Mbps of Q4, whilst Mobily's maintained an average of 11.4Mbps that was largely unchanged from the 11.2Mbps of Q4 2018. Upload speeds on 3G instead saw good gains from STC - up 13% from 2.3Mbps in Q4 2018 - and Mobily, which was the most improved at 15% from the 2.0Mbps average of the previous reporting period. Zain's 3G average upload speed decreased ever so slightly from the 2.1Mbps seen in Q4.

The overall improvement in mobile broadband download speeds was reflected in the off-peak and peak performance. The last quarterly report showed a discrepancy where average download speeds had improved, but only during off-peak hours. By contrast, Q1 2019 sees both off-peak and peak hour download speeds improving by a respective 13.3% and 10%. While this is a positive development, the effect of network congestion during peak hours remains very high, with download speeds decreasing by 28.9% during peak hours of user activity.

Mobile upload speeds during off-peak hours decreased by 3.5% from the last quarter's 14.1Mbps average, whereas the decrease was lesser during peak hours at 2.4%, down from 12.4Mbps - a very small difference in practical terms - from Q4 2018. The decrease in performance due to network congestion remained relatively high, with a difference of 11% between off-peak and peak hours that was, however, reduced from last quarter's 12.1%.

The YouTube measurement streams a real video from the live YouTube service. This is a particularly interesting service to measure as traffic is often delivered directly from the service providers' networks through the use of Google Global Caches (GGCs); these are servers installed by service providers inside their network to cache YouTube and other Google content.

Full HD YouTube video streaming at 1080p had a significantly higher success rate over 4G than it did over 3G, as ought to be expected from the more advanced technology. Mobily users experienced the higher percentage of successful Full HD streams over 4G at 71%, improving from the previous quarter's 68%, followed by STC at 68%. Full HD streaming was not as successful for Zain users at 52%, although the service provider did see a substantial improvement compared to the 45% of last quarter. Mobily and STC also provided 3G users with the highest rate of Full HD streaming, but users are almost equally likely to experience videos in Standard Definition. Zain had the lowest ratio of successful Full HD streaming on 3G - even decreasing from 24% to 18% quarter to quarter - with users more likely to be able to stream videos in 720p or Standard Definition.

Web browsing measurements were conducted from the participants’ smartphones. The test measures the total amount of time it takes to fetch the web page and all associated objects and indicates how long it takes for a webpage to load in a user’s browser. Users on 4G services were able to fully load webpages at an average of 1 second or less, with STC having the fastest load time of 0.7 seconds. 3G users also had good webpage loading times, with STC also seeing the lowest average of 1.3 seconds followed by Mobily and Zain at 1.7 seconds.

Fixed-Line results

1st January 2019 – 31st March 2019

Mobily's fixed-line fiber service delivered users with the highest download performance at 90.2%, following an improvement of 1.6 percentage points from the 88.6% of the previous quarter. STC's fiber service followed closely behind at 89.4%, also improving - albeit to a lesser degree - from last quarter's 89%. STC's ADSL service achieved an average performance of 73.6% that was slightly lower but nevertheless comparable to last quarter's 74.7%

Upload performance on fiber services remained fundamentally unchanged quarter to quarter, with STC maintaining the highest average performance at 96.7% and Mobily following at 94.7%. These represent quarterly decreases of 0.8 and 0.7 percentage points, respectively from last quarter. By contrast, upload performance on STC’s ADSL improved by 2.6 percentage points, up from 82.5% to 85.1%.

The chart above shows the impact of peak hour activity on fixed-line broadband speeds across all of KSA. The impact of increased user activity during peak hours of operation remained minimal, with download performance decreasing by 1.7 percentage points and upload performance even improving slightly. These narrow differences indicate a fixed-line broadband network that is generally well equipped to handle increased user activity during the evening hours without suffering the effects of network congestion.

YouTube video streaming was successful in the vast majority of tests conducted over fixed-line broadband networks, showing good improvements compared to the last quarter. STC fiber users were able to successfully stream YouTube videos in Full HD in 97% of tests, up from 89% in Q4 2018, whilst Mobily fiber users had a very similar success rate at 96%, also improving from the 88% of the last quarter. STC ADSL users also experienced a positive improvement from 86% to 91%, with a minority of tests achieving a maximum of 720p resolution streaming.

STC fiber services provided users with the fastest average webpage loading time of 2.1 seconds, followed by Mobily fiber at 2.4 seconds - both services showing minor improvements compared to the 2.3 and 2.5 seconds seen in the previous report. STC ADSL services maintained webpage loading times that were slightly higher at 3.4 seconds, with a slight increase from the previous quarter's 3.2 seconds that should, however, be of no consequence to most users.

Content Delivery Networks are used by websites to distribute content, such as images, to users and helps reduce webpage loading time. A low CDN latency means that users are able to load this content faster. In this quarter, CDN latency saw no changes of note for Mobily fiber users, with Amazon and Apple content latency remaining above the 400ms mark. These two content providers, however, saw latency decrease significantly for STC fiber users: Amazon down from 500ms to 300ms, and Apple from 300ms to 200ms. CDN latency also saw limited changes for STC ADSL users, with Cloudflare, Google, and Microsoft maintaining averages similar to those of the previous quarter, although Apple did see a noticeable increase of 42% from 490ms to 540ms.