A gripe that most telecom subscribers have is that they rarely get the Internet speeds they have subscribed for. Speed-testing platforms like Ookla and Open Signal come handy in such situations, by providing tools to test internet speeds. These services are also being used by operators to gain insights into the performance of networks. In a telephonic interview, Doug Suttles, co-founder and general manager, Ookla, spoke about internet speeds in India, 5G and their latest acquisitions. Edited excerpts:
How important is India market for Ookla? How is it different from other markets?
The Indian market in general is very important to us. The unique thing about Ookla is the speed test platform and it is what drives everything we do. In a market like India, we have so many users actively using our applications. We are also active on the enterprise side. We are also working with all the carriers in India as well as TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). India is a little bit of a stress market. So much money was spent in a short time to build the infrastructure for 4G and that has made it hard for operators to recover, recuperate and stabilise. Spending a whole lot of money to do something big and then do it again to improve services, is too difficult.
India has the slowest internet speeds in the world. Why is that?
I wouldn't call it the slowest. But it's definitely very low in the rankings. I see it as a capacity issue where there are so many people joining LTE (long-term evolution) networks at the same time. If you look back at the data when we started, performance was a lot higher as there were fewer people on the network.
Why do various speed-testing platforms give different results?
We measure lots of things, but the core metric that we always measure is what we call maximum sustainable throughput. We want to know what speeds your connection is really capable of. And the only way you can measure that is through an active speed test in the foreground. A test carried out in background won’t have the resources you need. If you look at the numbers that we publish, they are always faster than everyone else’s.
How do you ensure a user gets a complete picture of the internet speed they are getting, because there are times when there is a significant dip in speeds on the same network?
So the reason behind the speed degradation could be capacity, spectrum, last mile connectivity or backhaul. We do have some things that would help users in the roadmap and will be coming. But for now, we work with operators in solving these issues.
What has changed in terms of speed measurement parameters over the over the last few years?
We have several clients around the world, who are rolling out 10 Gigabit fibre services. 5G is a similar thing where multi gigabit connectivity needs to be measured for a handset. We do a lot of things to make sure that we can measure those maximum speeds and we have a lot of new things coming this year to measure gigabit and beyond. But that metric is a hard thing to do. You have to have the infrastructure for it and a really solid methodology to measure such speeds.
Will platforms like Ookla become obsolete in the 5G and Gigabit era? How relevant will they remain?
Definitely not! And I can say this, because 10 years ago, I was asking myself that same question. In the early days, when home broadband speeds used to be maximum of 10 megabit and later on 100 megabit, no one thought we could beat it. The faster the internet speed gets, the more people wants to see what it is truly capable of that.
In 2017, Reliance Jio accused Ookla of manipulating speed tests to favour Airtel. How do you ensure the speed tests are accurate?
We do enterprise telecom business in over 100 countries. We are constantly monitoring, we have a large data science team, we have a large set of processes and methodologies to ensure that everything is as accurate as possible. We do not bend data to say something. We work closely with the regulator and explain how we do things. The one thing that's unique about us is that most telecom providers subscribe to our system. They can see everything and know all of our processes and methodology.
We saw 4G services come very late to India. Will the same happen with 5G?
I think it will be late. There's been so much money spent on the LTE infrastructure and the return is not being made on that investment yet. So when you're trying to do the same thing with 5G, it seems difficult when the market really has yet to stabilize after the 4G revolution. I do think there's a benefit to that. Because you can see how rest of the world is implementing 5G, and you can learn from the best strategy.
Tell us a bit about some of Ookla’s recent acquisitions. How does Ookla monetise its services?
Ekahau is known for providing tools to enterprises to build their own WiFi networks. Then we have Mosaik, which is a mapping technologies company. It is more for RF (radio frequency) and mobile. Most of our monetization comes from providing data insights to operators and enterprise. The core of our business is an analytics and insights.