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Egypt's Internet Sucks: Here's Why

The low speeds, high prices and poor performance of Egypt's internet service providers is affecting the development of start-ups and businesses that depend on being connected. Conor Sheils finds out more.

Egyptian internet speeds are crippling the country's start-up bubble, experts claim. Recently, Cairo was branded one of the world's top start-up business bubbles by Richard Branson's Virgin with a tech savvy population cited as one of the reasons for the city's success. However, poor quality speeds and service from the country's main providers has left Egypt lagging behind other countries in the race to become the Middle East's top business hub.

The average internet speed in Egypt is just 2.8 Megabits per second (Mbps), a speed dwarfed by near neighbours including Saudi Arabia (11.4mbps), Turkey (11.3mbps), with even politically unstable nations such as Libya (5.2mbps) and Sudan (2.9mbps) out performing Egypt. This lies in a stark contrast to the glitzy advertising campaigns offered by the country's four main ISPs (Internet Service Providers); TEData, Etisalat, Vodafone and Link DSL (owned by Mobinil).

Link DSL recently launched a shiny new high speed service, which claims ot offer speeds of up to 48megabytes per second (Mbps), making it the fastest internet offering available in the country. However, the latest rankings by Ookla Net Index tell a very different tale with LinkDSL customers receiving between 1-3mbps on average. LinkDSL is not the only firm coming up short when it comes to service quality.

State-owned Telecom Egypt's TEData advertises speeds of up to 24mbps, a far cry from the 2.55mbps received on average by Egyptian users. Meanwhile UAE-owned Etisalat scores 5.82mbps - half of the 10mbps promised in stores and online. And even international giant Vodafone fails to perform, with users receiving just 3mbps on average instead of the promised 12mbps. Their latest advertising campaign offering top speeds comes after partner network Mobinil also boasted of allowing the fastest mobile data speeds in Egypt.

Surprisingly, the fastest internet speeds are available Hurghada where users receive an average of 4.85mb per second. Meanwhile, the second place spot went to Cairo where users clock in at 3.09mb. The worst quality service was spotted in Upper Egypt's Qena ranked bottom of the pile scoring just 1.06mbps on average. However, it's not just poor service quality and speeds which are affecting Egypt's internet users - the relatively high cost of getting online is putting many off. In Europe, users are often offered super fast connections free as part of TV packages - however in Egypt even the low end options can set you back almost 100LE per month. 

All three of the country's mobile operators; Vodafone, Mobinil and Etisalat promise speeds of up to 42mbps. However the average mobile internet speed ranks nationally at just 3.1mbps. Meanwhile, Egypt is also being left behind many Middle Eastern and Western countries in the race to accquire 4G mobile data - a technology already widespread in the West and in other Middle Eastern states including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

One business owner who spoke to CairoScene on the condition on anonymity claimed that the country's sub standard internet access coupled with the costs involved in accessing a high-speed web connection has damaged development. "The data infrastructure here in Egypt is definitely prohibative for many start-ups. We have a full-time tech team but the service is of such a poor quality - it is holding us back. The system must improve if Egypt is to reach its full potential as a start-up hub. Otherwise we risk getting left behind."

Earlier this year, a group of activists founded the Egyptian Internet Revolution, a pressure group designed to force Egyptian ISPs to take their service up to speed. Group spokesman Islam Khaled said: "Egypt is a terrible place right now to try and do business via the internet. The speeds are slow, the prices are high and the technical support is often very poor too. I used to own a start-up coding company but it was taking me five times as long to do work because of the poor quality. That's why we founded the group. It hasn't been easy, we've tried putting proposals to the NTRA but so far we have been met with resistance. Egypt has so much potential right now, yet the internet providers don't seem to realise it."