Mobile Internet speed in Russia – measurement pitfalls


In Russia, the quality of mobile Internet is good, we take it for granted, available by default. A Russian tourist, getting to other countries, often encounters mobile Internet, which works much worse – slow, falls off from time to time, there are restrictions on downloading large files, and it is also expensive. Russia looks advantageous both in terms of speed and cost, but very often Ookla data is cited as evidence of the opposite. This independent test is available in all corners of the world, the user downloads the application on Android / iOS and can measure the speed of their mobile Internet. The test is not to blame for anything, it accurately reflects reality and shows exactly the data that is available in it. But the speed of the mobile Internet in Russia is noticeably higher, which is easy to see using the same Ookla application. Confused? Let’s unravel this tangle of contradictions together in order to understand exactly how speed measurement works, what affects it and what is the speed of mobile Internet in Russia.

To quote from MegaFon’s press release about the Ookla award:

“The international company Ookla has summed up the results of an independent study of the quality of mobile Internet provided by telecom operators in Russia. MegaFon was named the leader in mobile Internet speed for the fourth year in a row.

The Ookla® study is based on Internet speed measurements carried out by subscribers in the Speedtest® application on their mobile devices throughout Russia. This testing format allows you to determine the speed in any location and get the most complete and objective data. To compile the 2020 ranking, Ookla analyzed over 2,9 million measurements across all operators’ networks from January to June.

In Russia as a whole, the average download speed on the MegaFon network was 32,79 Mbps, the download speed was 13,22 Mbps, and the ping value was 46 ms. In Moscow, the average download speed was 48,50 Mbps, in St. Petersburg – 29,87 Mbps, Yekaterinburg – 29,29 Mbps, Novosibirsk – 42,95 Mbps, Samara – 27,52 Mbps. from.

MegaFon has maintained its leadership in the Ookla rating since 2017. ”

Now let’s take a look at the network speed, for example, in St. Petersburg on my smartphone.

Mobile Internet speed in Russia - measurement pitfalls

Please note that the press release mentions the average speed, which was obtained for all operators from 2.9 million measurements in the first half of the year. MegaFon alone has 75.2 million subscribers, and their total number in Russia exceeds 260 million. Many people use a second SIM-card in an additional phone or tablet, these are also M2M solutions. There are both very simple smartphones and advanced models on the market. Depending on the cost, the number of supported frequencies and their aggregation will differ in the device. The more expensive a smartphone is, the more opportunities (read – the speed of the mobile Internet) it offers. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all, since a person only watches web pages, writes in messengers, sometimes the quality of the mobile Internet comes to the fore, since you need to send streaming video, broadcast in maximum quality. It is impossible to assume that all smartphones are the same and the Internet speed depends solely on the operator – it is not so!

On the Samsung M11 smartphone, in the same place, I got the maximum speed of 20 Mbit / s, the smaller number of frequencies in the smartphone affects, the fact that their aggregation is not supported, as on older devices.

The figures of this measurement clearly show that the same operator at the same point shows completely different results for the SIM card, and this directly follows from the differences in the models themselves. This is important to remember and keep in mind, since differences in the radio part can show fundamentally different connection speeds.

You can also remember that external factors affect cellular communication, for example, rain deteriorates communication parameters. But since all operators work in the same conditions, it makes no sense to consider this point. With a noticeable number of measurements, the factor of weather and external conditions is leveled.

The next, slightly paradoxical factor that affects the average speed in Ookla is that in Russia many people use this test in order to demonstrate to the operator that the speed at a particular point in space is not very high and he needs to work on it. For example, in South Korea, Ookla results are not used by subscribers for this, operators offer their own applications, and users are well aware of them.

A person with communication problems takes more measurements than one who does not. This also gives statistical error. But let’s take a look at South Korea and their speed results.

Mobile Internet speed in Russia - measurement pitfalls

The differences from Russian networks are huge, the speeds are higher, and it seems that our operators are hopelessly lagging behind. But this is for the most part visibility, since you need to understand the proportion of flagship devices in dimensions and the number of dimensions itself.

Let’s take a look at the proportion of smartphones that can potentially deliver top speeds. In South Korea, this is about every fourth smartphone, since the market is initially operator-owned and smartphones are received as part of a subscription to services. In Russia, even in the best scenario, the number of such smartphones is two times lower. Therefore, even in a scenario where two countries have exactly the same networks, the share of top-end devices will affect the test results on the network.

Do you know what else distinguishes us from the same South Korea? People with flagship devices generally do not experience problems with connection speed and therefore do not seek to measure it. There is no competition, while in many countries it is, hence the greater number of dimensions, another share of top-end devices. Plus the presence of 5G networks and a sufficient number of clients that constantly measure the connection speed (yes, at least at each presentation of a new device, there are hundreds of measurements) – all this pulls the statistics up.

This is not a complete list of factors that affect a custom speed measurement. For example, in the same Ookla, a server is selected with which the test program exchanges information; by default, the choice comes from several servers. This is not always the closest and most successful server, but this is just good, since the test tries to reproduce real life – we often request resources that are not nearby, but somewhere on the other side of the world. Often the speed measurement takes place from the smartphone to the base station and vice versa, so we see fantastic numbers that are unattainable in practice. This is the algorithm of a number of test programs, it should also be taken into account.

In my opinion, Ookla’s methodology is better because it takes into account the real conditions of the network, not ideal ones. It is impossible to directly compare the results of measuring the speed to the base station and the test from Ookla, they have completely different methods. And the tasks are also different, in one case, measuring the speed is a marketing tool to emphasize that the network is working quickly, and not to leave it at the mercy of third-party programs. Knowingly perfect result, all other things being equal.

It never ceases to amaze me that many people perceive all smartphones to be the same in radio frequency, do not see any difference between them. Again, this is not the case. As well as the operator can distribute different priorities for SIM cards on the network, in the basic version the 4G connection speed will not be maximum, and in more advanced tariffs (they depend on the level of spending) you will get the maximum. Such distribution does not entail infringement of someone’s rights, because users of basic tariffs do not need large amounts of data, maximum transmission speed. They have comfortable, high-quality internet. But those who choose higher tariffs receive priority, and this is logical, since speed is important for them due to the tasks that they solve on their smartphone.

Ookla’s report on the speed of operators in Russia is correct, there is no doubt about how they are distributed. The same “MegaFon” constantly invests in network renewal and is the leader both in the number of base stations of the latest generations (read – maximum coverage) and in the speed of data transmission on the transport network. The numbers play an important role here, the better coverage you have and more modern base stations, the more places the subscriber will receive high-quality and high-speed communication.

But the speed figures can be higher, for this it is enough for a noticeable number of people to start measuring the connection speed on their smartphones and do it more or less constantly. Not at the moment when some problems arise, but this is the most frequent case in our country, but simply during the day. Then we will see a change in the position of Russia in the Ookla list, since the data obtained will automatically improve our country, this follows from the company’s methodology and those habits that we see among Russian users.

In any rating, it is important to understand how it develops, what is the calculation methodology, how it works. Using Ookla as an example, we looked at what affects the measurements, why the speed of the mobile Internet is actually higher, and in the average results it is noticeably lower. I hope that the next time, when discussing the speed of mobile Internet, you will understand that it is important not only to say which operator you have, but also to name the phone model, as well as the tariff plan. Have a nice and fast mobile Internet!

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