Meqyas, Q3 2018 Report

In 2017, the CITC in partnership with SamKnows launched a project to measure internet performance. The project, named Meqyas, gives internet users in Saudi Arabia access to Smartphone apps and Whiteboxes to measure internet quality of experience. The goal of Meqyas is to increase transparency and encourage better internet performance throughout the Kingdom.

Key findings

1st July 2018 – 30th September 2018

This report focuses on an overview of the fixed-line and mobile internet performance across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The statistical samples for the analysis presented are strong and reflective of the quality of broadband services in the KSA.

Some of the key findings are highlighted below:

  • Mobile broadband continued to see higher download speeds compared to the previous reporting periods, spurred mainly by improvements in 4G download speeds. These improvements would have been experienced by users mainly during off-peak hours, as peak-hour download speeds remained in line with those of the previous reporting period.
  • Download speeds on fixed-line services remained below the rates advertised by service providers, with minor quarterly decreases. Upload speeds, however, remained high and very close to the speeds advertised by service providers. As with previous reports, fiber services outperformed those on ADSL connections.
  • Fixed-line connections also showed no significant impact in either download or upload speeds as a result of network congestion during the day's busiest hours. The average time required to fully load common webpages remained low, and indicative of a healthy fixed-line network.

Mobile providers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia delivered users with an average download speed of 27.4Mbps during the third quarter of 2018 and an average upload speed of 13.4Mbps. These figures represent increases of 7.9% and 6.3% compared to the 25.4Mbps and 12.6Mbps averages tested during the second quarter of 2018 and are indicative of a good mobile broadband network.

Fixed-line broadband download performance averaged 84.3% of advertised speeds during the quarter. This represents a very small decrease of no consequence to users from the 84.8% average during the second quarter of 2018. Upload performance also remained high at 92.4%, despite a relatively minor decrease from the previous quarter's 93.5%.

Mobile results

1st July 2018 – 30th September 2018

The third quarter of 2018 saw a continued increase in mobile broadband download speeds, up to a maximum of 28.7Mbps during the month of September. This increase was largely due to improvements in speeds across the 4G network, which followed a similar upward trend seen in the previous quarterly report. 3G download speeds also increased following a dip in the second quarter of the year, reaching a local high of 7.1Mbps in September that nearly matched the 7.2Mbps maximum from February.

The improvements in mobile download speed were mirrored across average mobile upload speeds, which increased month-over-month throughout the quarter. As with download speeds, these increases were largely due to high performance across 4G data, which reached a maximum average of 15Mbps in September. 3G upload performance was good, with a maximum of 2.2Mbps during the month of September.

The chart above shows average mobile download speeds by operator and access technology. All service providers showed increased download speeds across both 3G and 4G compared to the last quarter, Zain made improvement in 3G, up by 7% from 5.6Mbps to 6Mbps, and by 24% in 4G from 17.3Mbps to 21.5Mbps. It was followed by Mobily with a 12.5% gain in 4G from 18.3Mbps to 20.6Mbps. STC's 4G performance increased by a smaller margin at 4.7%, but the service provider continued to deliver the highest average speeds by a wide margin at 35.8Mbps

Mobile upload speeds remained relatively unchanged compared to Q2 2018. All mobile operators saw minor increases in 4G upload speeds, whilst the improvements on 3G were also minor. As with previous reports, the difference in technology is especially significant when considering upload speeds, with 4G speeds up to 7 times faster than 3G.

Network congestion during peak hours resulted in a 17.5% decrease in mobile download speeds compared to the 29.1Mbps average during off-peak hours.

The impact of network congestion was not as severe for mobile upload speeds as it was for download speeds, with the average decreasing by 7.3% during peak hours.

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 the SPs inside their network to cache YouTube and other Google content.

As expected from the superior radio technology, 4G connections provided users with a much higher percentage of YouTube video streams in Full High Definition than 3G. STC delivered the highest YouTube video quality for the majority of tests conducted across both 4G and 3G, with only a respective 8% and 38% of tests successfully streaming Standard Definition as the higher possible resolution, whilst Zain had the lowest overall rate of success in streaming Full HD. As with the Q2 2018 report, there was no real difference between 3G and 4G when streaming content in HD (720p) resolution.

Web browsing measurements were conducted from the participants’ smartphones to a popular website hosted in Saudi Arabia. The test measures the total amount of time it takes to fetch the webpage and all associated objects and indicates how long it takes for a webpage to load in a user’s browser.

The average time required to load the webpage on 4G was under 1 second across all mobile service providers, remaining fundamentally unchanged from the Q2 2018 test results. Tests over 3G required slightly longer to fully load this webpage - from 0.6 to 0.8 seconds depending on the operator - also mirroring the results obtained in the previous reporting period.

Fixed-Line results

1st July 2018 – 30th September 2018

STC's fiber services delivered users with the highest download speeds at 92.2% of advertised, followed by Mobily's fiber services with 87.8% of advertised. Compared to the previous reporting period in Q2 2018, Mobily's performance increased slightly from 87.4%, whereas STC's performance showed a decrease from 94.8%. STC's performance also decreased on ADSL services from the 74.3% seen in the previous quarter.

STC delivered users with the highest upload performance over fiber connections at 95.8%, despite a decrease from the previous quarter's 99.2%. Mobily's upload performance on fiber connections instead improved to 89.3% from 87.3%. Performance also decreased across STC's ADSL services from 93% in Q2, nevertheless remaining high at 90.2% in Q3.

Average KSA overall download and upload performance on fixed-line services remained high, with decreases of 0.7 and 0.9 percentage points across download and upload, respectively, due to network congestion during the hours of peak activity. These decreases are minor and - in practical terms - negligible to users.

Full HD streaming of YouTube videos was successful across the vast majority of tests conducted for all service providers and technologies, with a maximum of 81% for STC's fiber service, followed by Mobily's fiber service at 79%, and finally STC's ADSL service at 78%. The comparable performance between fiber and ADSL can be attributed to the use of Google Global Cache technology, which effectively helps ensure a steady delivery of content regardless of technology.

Web browsing measurements were conducted from the Whiteboxes in participants’ homes to a selection of 10 popular websites in Saudi Arabia that are hosted both domestically and abroad. The test measures the total time to fetch the webpage and all associated objects.

The lowest - and therefore, fastest - times required to fully load those webpages were found on STC's fiber service, at an average of 2.2 seconds, followed by Mobily's fiber service with 2.6 seconds. The latter product also saw a faster webpage loading time compared to the previous reporting period's 2.9 seconds, whilst STC's ADSL services averaged the highest time at 3.3 seconds - unchanged from Q2 2018.

Latency to CDNs is important as CDNs are where providers, such as major social networks and popular mobile app providers, host their content (e.g. Google is used by YouTube and Snapchat, while Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and PlayStation rely primarily on Akamai). Lower latency equates to lower page load times for users.

None of the six major Content Delivery Network operators tested were found to serve traffic directly within the Kingdom. Certain CDN providers - Cloudflare, Google, Microsoft - have infrastructure present in the Middle East that helps maintain a lower latency when delivering content to the KSA, whilst others - notably Amazon and Apple - instead deliver content from servers located in the USA or Europe, thus resulting - as can be seen in the chart - in significantly higher latency. In the past quarter, Cloudflare has established a CDN node within the Kingdom, but it appears that this is currently unused; traffic to Cloudflare is still routed outside of the Kingdom.