Dire downloads

As an Egyptian ISP claims the fastest Middle East internet crown, Matt Wade suggests most end users here are still some way away from speedy connections…

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By  Matthew Wade Published  March 3, 2008

Earlier this week, Egyptian internet service provider (ISP) Linkdotnet announced what it claimed is "the fastest internet access package in the Middle East".
The company's new ‘LINKDSL Plus' package provides well-monied subscribers with download speeds of up to 8Mbps (that’s eight megabits per second - equivalent to almost a megabyte of data per second), whilst its upload speeds reach 1024Kbps (that’s 1024 kilobits, or 128Kbytes per second); all for the not-inconsiderable sum of US $180 per month.

That’s all very nice (bar the price), indeed to any PR professional worth their salt such a ‘regional first’ is the stuff perfect press releases are made of, but the truth is it rather pulls the wool over the eyes of any surfer based outside this region that reads that story. Because it implies we’re not doing too badly here for quick net access – and that’s still not the case.

Part of the problem is the age-old niggle of end users simply not getting the speeds they’re paying for, though it must be said that this problem isn’t limited to users in the Middle East. Pick up any UK PC mag for instance and the chances are there will be some mention of how broadband subscribers are being ripped off through receiving sloth-like connection speeds. But that factor doesn’t make the issue any less frustrating for clickers here. Take my home UAE connection, which comes courtesy of Du. Because I’m a miser, I pay for a 512Kbps connection (very nearly the lowest speed broadband package available). Run this connection through the speed test at internetfrog.com however, and I find that it averages about half that data rate. Which is naff. So naff in fact that when using Gmail I cannot even send an e-mail with a 3Mbyte attachment. Seriously ‘dark age’ stuff.

This is a problem many users here face, as the Windows Net Speed Survey we ran a few months back found users across the region reporting similarly annoying speed stats. One Yemen.net subscriber even reported their 512 connection crawling along at 106Kbps, which isn’t much better than a creaking ‘bzzzz, beeeep’ dial-up line.

Users with 1- and 2Mbps packages fared little better, with 50-60% of the maximum quoted speed being the norm they received.

The other factor affecting our speeds in this region is our wallets – namely the fact that few of us seem willing to pay through the nose the kind of prices Middle East ISPs currently charge. We’ll have broadband, yes, because we need to surf, but we’ll politely decline the high-end packages.

There was evidence of this in the same Windows net speed survey, as a whopping 71% of our poll’s respondents claimed to run packages that top out at 512Mbps or less. And I really don’t think that’s because these users don’t like downloading, or prefer their pages to appear gradually. Nope, it’s more about money.

To hold up my connection as another example, I signed up for this mediocre package a year ago, and since then the price has remained - wait for it – yes, exactly the same. As has Etisalat’s equivalent-speed package. As such, my connection speed has remained the same. It’s really not rocket science.

For this region’s users to really get whizzing then, the ISPs need to get a real handle on whether their packages really make the grade, speed-wise and cost-wise. Then and only then will this be a part of the world in which broadband truly takes off.

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