Speed Isn’t Everything (But it Helps)

Interview with Ookla CEO Doug Suttles In 2022, for the second consecutive year, Ookla named Cyta’s mobile network as the fastest in Europe. Here, Ookla co-founder and CEO Doug Suttles discusses how the company determines the winners of its coveted awards, the evolution of interest testing and analysis, its mission to become a one-stop shop, and upcoming industry trends. By Adonis Adoni

Last year, Ookla awarded Cyta’s mobile network as the fastest in Europe for the second time in a row. How often does that happen and what does it say about a telco from a small market like Cyprus achieving such an honour twice?
It is unique for an operator to maintain consistent levels of high speed across a region such as Europe. It is testimony to Cyta that it has now delivered the top speeds in Europe on two occasions.

How do you determine titles like ‘the fastest regional mobile network’? And how do you ensure the accuracy and credibility of the results?
To determine Speedtest Award winners for mobile networks, Ookla assesses the average of consumer-initiated test results taken using modern chipsets, which include all mobile tests, regardless of the connection technology used, as long as they’re conducted on devices that are identified as being capable of achieving the fastest speeds available in a market. After this filtering has taken place, a Speed Score is applied to determine the best speeds available in a country. The Speed Score incorporates a measure of each provider’s download and upload speed to rank network speed performance. Each top carrier accounts for at least 3% of the sample size in the geographic area and must be the fastest in-country mobile network to qualify.

You and your co-founder established Ookla in 2006. How has internet testing and analysis evolved over the years?
It’s changed quite a bit and it’s also amazing to look back and see how far Ookla has come as a company in a short amount of time. In the beginning, when we created Speedtest.net, we were primarily measuring fixed broadband since mobile connectivity was limited in capability. As you mentioned, this was back in 2006, before smartphones were common. Fast forward to today, where fibre and 5G are prevalent, and it’s clear that connectivity technology has advanced significantly. One of the challenges these days is being able to measure the capacities that are out there. We are the only global platform that can do this, mainly because we have more than 16,000 servers worldwide and our testing infrastructure and methodology are architected for this very purpose.

The Ookla Speedtest has become the go-to tool for analysing network performance, which means that you have some great insights into how the rollout of the latest generation of mobile networks is going. So, what improvements does 5G bring over 4G?
One thing to bear in mind is that the 5G-user experience is affected by several factors, such as network coverage and quality, which in turn depend on the available 5G spectrum, as well as network densification (the number of 5G sites) and optimisation. Our data shows a median global 5G download speed of 168.27 Mbps in Q3 2022, which is almost eight times faster than the median 4G download speed (21.29 Mbps) during that same timeframe. When we look at Cyprus, specifically in Q3 2022, the majority of 5G subscribers saw speeds at least 5.5 times faster than 4G. Specifically, the median 5G download speed in Cyprus was 222.32 Mbps on 5G versus 38.61 Mbps on 4G. However, it’s not all about speed: 5G represents a step-change in the quality of experience over LTE (long-term evolution) networks and, thanks to lower latency, users can enjoy uninterrupted access to services such as high-definition video streaming, mobile gaming and video calling on the go.

In the last couple of years, Ookla has made a number of acquisitions, including the testing company Solutelia, the telecom analytics company CellRebel and the research house RootMetrics. What do these purchases tell us about the company’s future? Is the “one-stop-shop” model a part of your vision?
Absolutely! Ookla’s mission is to measure, understand and help improve connected experiences. I’ve always wanted to help build and solve problems with networks, not just inform about benchmarking and where issues might arise. Its key, then, to invest in first-party data solutions that reinforce and validate each other to help networks worldwide create better connectivity for all. After that, everything else will come together.

Going back to Cyprus, a collective effort is currently under way to digitise the local economy. While there are obvious benefits here to having a fast mobile network, such as increased productivity – this is especially true in times of inflationary unrest – are there any hidden values that are not usually discussed?
For sure. Economic studies have proven that access to fast broadband networks stimulates economic growth. The digitisation of different sectors of the economy not only increases productivity and reduces costs but it also supports sustainable development and climate goals. However, the quality of broadband connectivity is also vitally important. Many digital applications (videoconferencing, gaming, and video streaming) need high-speed, low latency, highly reliable and consistent networks. Individuals and businesses with such access will be at a significant advantage. Additionally, digitisation spurs greater digital innovation and changes the very nature of business innovation. Thanks to the greater use of data and AI, new digital services can emerge that are more personalised and immersive than ever before. To this end, the Cyprus Government has approved a national strategy for AI.

Finally, what trends are you observing in the telco industry, both in Cyprus and globally?
This is a very timely question as Ookla’s analysts have just published the telco trends that we expect to see in 2023. We see the focus shifting from 5G network rollouts to demonstrating value and zeroing in on 5G use cases. With 5G networks in place, the quality of experience and initiatives to increase average revenue per user and consumer stickiness, while at the same time reducing churn, are at the forefront of many minds. On the enterprise side, we see private networks and 5G standalone addressing some of the additional needs that companies have with regard to dedicated networks and quality of service. One area that is strongly coming to the fore is sustainability. Globally – and also in Cyprus – operators are focusing on how to make networks not only faster but also more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.