Meqyas, Q4 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 October 2018 – 31st December 2018

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.

Mobile providers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia delivered users an average download speed of 28.7Mbps during the fourth quarter of 2018, and an average upload speed of 13.5Mbps. These figures represent increases of 4.7% and 0.7% compared to the 27.4Mbps and 13.4Mbps averages tested during the third quarter of 2018 and are indicative of a good mobile broadband network.

Fixed-line broadband download performance averaged 84.2% of advertised speeds during the quarter. Both download and upload speeds showed negligible overall differences from Q3, although the Peak vs Off-Peak comparisons in the following charts will show that there have been changes by time of day.

Mobile results

1st October 2018 – 31st December 2018

Despite the initial decrease going into November, the fourth quarter of 2018 saw an overall continued increase in mobile broadband download speeds with up to a maximum average of 29.1Mbps during the month of December. This increase was primarily due to improvements in speeds across the 4G and followed a similar upward trend seen in the previous quarter. By contrast, 3G download speeds had improved going into November but saw an overall slight downward trend going into December. However, this downward trend was not enough to offset 4G’s continued increase, thus resulting in an overall net increase within the fourth quarter.

Mobile upload speeds decreased month by month in the fourth quarter. 3G networks remained stable, ranging from 2.1Mbps to 2.3Mbps. 4G dropped from a high of 15.1Mbps in October to 14.0Mbps in December, a decrease of 7.3%.

The chart above shows average mobile download speeds by operator and access technology. Mobily made improvements compared to last quarter, increasing 5.9% in 3G download speeds from 6.7Mbps to 7.1Mbps, and by 25.7% in 4G from 20.6Mbps to 25.9Mbps. Despite a slight decrease of 1.7%, STC remained the highest performer on 4G by a wide margin at 35.2Mbps while Zain 4G improved by 15% from 21.5Mbps to 24.7Mbps but decreased by 8.3% from 6.0Mbps to 5.5Mbps on 3G.

Mobile upload speeds improved slightly compared to Q3 2018. Mobily and Zain saw increases in both 3G and 4G upload speeds, Mobily in particular improving 4G upload speeds from 9.2Mbps to 11.2Mbps—a 21.7% increase. Zain improved 3G upload speeds by a notable 31.25%, with slight improvements to 4G at 4.07%. Conversely, STC 4G speeds decreased by 4.1% from last quarter while STC 3G speeds remained steady at 2.3Mbps. As with previous reports, the difference in technology is especially significant when considering upload speeds, with 4G speeds exceeding those on 3G by between 5 and 7 times.

Average mobile download speed increased by 8.2% during off-peak hours from 29.1Mbps during Q3 2018 to 31.5Mbps, and decreased slightly from 24.0Mbps to 23.1Mbps during peak hours. This indicates that 4G performance, while improving when the network is not at its most congested, is beginning to decrease as peak hours grow busier. Although the decrease would not be noticeable from last quarter, there is now a significant 26.7% drop in performance between off-peak and peak times during this quarter.

Mobile upload speeds improved by 2.9% during off-peak hours compared to the 13.7Mbps of Q3 2018 and saw a very small decrease during peak hours, down from 12.7Mbps. As with download speeds, this represents a widening difference between peak and off-peak performance, dropping by 12.1% due to network congestion.

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 and Mobily delivered the highest YouTube video quality for the majority of tests conducted across both 4G and 3G, with only a respective 10% of 4G tests successfully streaming Standard Definition as the highest possible resolution and only a 1% difference in Full HD streaming percentages. Despite differences in download speed, both STC and Mobily are able to stream YouTube content at remarkably similar levels.

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. The average time required to load webpages on 4G was between 0.7 and 1.1 seconds across all mobile service providers, with Mobily and STC load times slightly increasing from the Q3 2018 test results. Tests over 3G required 0.7 to 1.1 seconds longer average loading time depending on the operator.

Fixed-Line results

1st October 2018 – 31st December 2018

STC's fiber services delivered users with the highest download speeds at 89.0% of advertised, followed by Mobily's fiber services with 88.6% of advertised. Compared to the previous reporting period in Q3 2018, Mobily's performance increased slightly from 87.8%, whereas STC's performance continued to decrease slightly from 92.2% in Q3 to 89.0% in Q4. The difference between fiber and ADSL technologies was stark, as STC's ADSL services delivered users with 74.7% of advertised speeds in comparison to STC Fiber’s 89.0%. Although STC’s ADSL speeds have increased from the 72.5% in Q3, their Q4 percentage of advertised at 74.7% still reflects a 16% slower service than STC’s Fiber offering.

STC delivered users with the highest upload performance over fiber connections at 97.5%, an increase from Q3’s 95.8%. Mobily's upload performance on fiber connections instead improved from 89.3% from 95.4%. STC’s ADSL performance decreased for the second quarter in a row, from 90.2% to 82.5%.

The chart above shows the impact of peak hour activity on fixed-line broadband speeds across all of KSA. Average download and upload performance on fixed-line services remained high, with limited - and in practical terms, negligible - decreases as a result of network congestion during the hours of peak activity. Both download and upload speeds showed slight increases in off-peak hour performance of 0.2 percentage points compared to the previous reporting period.

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 89% for STC's fiber service, followed closely by Mobily's fiber service at 88%, and finally STC's ADSL service at 86%. Each of these represents a significant increase from Q3’s performance, between an 8% and 12% shift from HD videos in Q3 to Full HD in Q4. 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.

The lowest - and therefore, fastest - times required to fully load webpages were found on STC's fiber service, at an average of 2.3 seconds, followed by Mobily's fiber service with 2.5 seconds. The latter product also improved by of 0.1 second compared to the previous reporting period's 2.6 seconds, whilst STC's ADSL services averaged the highest time at 3.2 seconds – a 0.1 second improvement from Q3 2018.

This quarter we notice changes since Q3, specifically Mobily’s performance to Apple CDNs has dropped from 550ms to around 400ms, whereas STC’s Fiber performance to Amazon and Apple CDNs has increased over 100ms. However, STC’s ADSL performance to most CDNs is around 200ms, slightly lower than Q3.