HomeAccessMiddle East broadband providers competing at gigabit speeds 

    Middle East broadband providers competing at gigabit speeds 


    Gulf region telcos are stepping up their consumer fibre game although the packages are not the cheapest

    Several Middle Eastern operators in countries including Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, and the UAE, are increasingly deploying gigabit packages which has significantly boosted their speed rankings, according to Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index. 

    The UAE leads the Middle East in fixed broadband performance in Q1 2024, achieving a median download speed of 270.91Mbps – more than double its Q3 2022 figure – and an upload speed of 124.37Mbps. Meanwhile, Bahrain and Qatar saw significant improvements in download and upload speeds, while the median download speed in Jordan rose rapidly from a small base, surpassing Saudi Arabia by Q1 2024.  

    ISPs are addressing indoor performance bottlenecks with more modern consumer premises equipment. In addition, ISPs have started bundling Wi-Fi 6 compatible CPEs and deploying fibre-to-the-room (FTTR) for ubiquitous gigabit wireless access indoors. Over one-third of test samples in the Gulf region reported using Wi-Fi 4 to connect to the fixed CPE. More ISPs are now offering Wi-Fi 6 compatible CPEs and including additional mesh Wi-Fi nodes at no extra costs to improve indoor coverage and speed. 

    For the UAE, Ookla said the turning point came in Q4 2022 when ISPs lifted the minimum broadband package speed from 250Mbps to 500Mbps and offered aggressive discounts to encourage upselling to faster fibre packages. The median upload speed also saw notable improvement, reaching 124.37Mbps in March 2024. 

    Bahrain and Qatar also experienced significant and rapid rises in median download speeds, reaching 83.0Mbps and 135.34 Mbps, respectively. The ISPs in the two countries saw significant improvements in upload speeds, too. Users in Qatar saw the biggest jump in median upload speed, tripling from Q1 2022 to Q1 2024 to 115.74Mbps. In Bahrain, the median upload speed increased by more than 2.7x but remained the lowest of the group at 20.70Mbps. 

    In Bahrain, the telecoms regulator mandated ISPs to double the speed of entry-level fibre packages in April 2023 while maintaining the same wholesale prices. This immediately impacted the market, with median broadband download speeds jumping from 48.14Mbps in Q1 2023 to 70.17Mbps in Q2 2023 (over 40%). 

     10Gbps consumer packages 

    Qatar was the first country in the GCC to offer 10Gbps consumer broadband packages. However, Ooredoo and Vodafone maintained a relatively low download speed on entry-level tariffs at 100Mbps. This changed in June 2023, when they raised the minimum speed to 1 Gbps while offering discounts on more expensive fiber packages. These initiatives resulted in a step change in download speeds, increasing by 41% in Q1 2024 compared to Q2 2023. 

    In Jordan, the launch of wholesaler Fibertech in 2019 significantly boosted service competition and led to more accessible and affordable fiber services for consumers. Fibertech, set up as a joint venture between ISP Umniah and Jordan Electricity Company, covered 1.2 million households by July 2023 and planned to reach 1.4 million premises, 70% of Jordan’s households, by the end of that year. 

    Fibre pips DSL  

    Fibre overtook fixed wireless access (FWA) and ADSL connections in Q2 2021 and represented 56% of fixed broadband connections by the end of 2022. Fibre maintained its upward trajectory, capturing 64% of the market in 3Q 2023 with 513,744 active connections according to the last reported data from the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC). Local ISPs have also been increasing the speed of entry-level plans and offering gigabit packages. For example, Orange Jordan introduced 2Gbps and 10Gbps plans in May 2023.  This accelerated fiber take-up boosted the median speeds for both download and upload, reaching 130.41Mbps and 108.08Mbps, respectively, in Q1 2024. Notably, Jordan doubled its median upload speed in two years, narrowing the gap with its median download speed. 

    In Saudi Arabia, stc led the way by increasing the minimum download speed from 100 Mbps to 300Mbps in the summer of 2022. Mobily followed suit in 2023 by doubling the speed of its entry-level package and introducing a 1Gbps broadband plan during Q2 2023. Zain initially reserved higher download speeds (ranging from 200Mbps to 500Mbps) for customers on two-year contracts, while those on 12-month contracts received speeds between 100Mbps and 300Mbps.  

    However, in 2023, Zain merged its plans into a standard 18-month contract starting at 200Mbps, with 1Gbps at the high end. These initiatives began to impact the market in Q2 2023, when the median download speed surpassed 90Mbps for the first time, reaching 108.95Mbps by Q1 2024. Upload speeds also saw significant growth, rising to 53.75Mbps during this period. 

    Gigabit versus giganot 

    Ookla said that while the broadband infrastructure in some countries from the Middle East is gigabit internet-ready, the disparity in income and the high price of these packages hinder the adoption rate of high-speed broadband services. For example, a 1Gbps fibre line in Hong Kong or Singapore could cost as little as $30 per month, and a plan with a similar speed starts at $100 per month in Qatar, $150 in the UAE, $250 in Saudi Arabia, and $345 in Bahrain.