South Africa’s slow Netflix speeds

Netflix has revealed its ISP Speed Index for December 2018, with South Africa still down the rankings.

South Africa’s ISPs achieved an average speed of 2.63Mbps during the month, an increase over last month’s average.

Despite the increase in average speed, South Africa’s overall rank on the charts decreased – indicating that other countries saw increases in their average speeds. South Africa placed 53 out of 59, down from 52nd last month.

The only countries performing worse than South Africa on the Netflix ISP Speed Index are South American nations like Bolivia, El Salvador, Honduras, and Venezuela.

Costa Rica, Jamaica, and the Philippines all rank higher than South Africa on the index.

South Africa’s previous best place was 50th, which it achieved in August 2018.

Best and worst countries

The table below shows how the top 5 and bottom 10 countries on the Netflix ISP Speed Index compare.

ISPs are ranked by average bitrate, with ties broken by the best “highest” bitrate, followed by the best “lowest” bitrate.

Rank Country Fastest (Mbps) Lowest (Mbps) Average (Mbps)
1 Switzerland 4.53 3.99 4.34
2 United States 4.51 3.19 4.29
3 Romania 4.45 2.94 4.29
4 Netherlands 4.32 3.69 4.26
5 Iceland 4.28 3.84 4.21
50 Philippines 3.27 1.29 2.74
51 Costa Rica 3.15 0.72 2.74
52 Jamaica 3.55 0.95 2.68
53 South Africa 4.00 1.90 2.63
54 Bolivia 3.19 2.22 2.63
55 El Salvador 2.61 2.43 2.49
56 Dominican Republic 2.70 0.92 2.43
57 Guatemala 2.60 2.35 2.43
58 Honduras 2.42 1.40 2.20
59 Venezuela 1.57 1.16 1.21

What the averages hide

While it is discouraging to see South Africa fare so poorly on the index, it is important to note what it actually measures.

Netflix explains that its index is a measure of prime-time Netflix performance on ISPs, and not a measure of the overall performance of an ISP’s network.

It calculates the average bitrate, in Mbps, of Netflix content streamed by members on a per-ISP basis.

“We measure the speed via all available end-user devices. For a small number of devices, we cannot calculate the exact bit rates, and streaming via cellular networks is exempted from our measurements,” said Netflix.

To illustrate: The minimum download speed required to use Netflix is 0.5Mbps, and 1.5Mbps is the recommended minimum speed. Netflix also recommends 3Mbps for streaming in SD quality, 5Mbps for HD, and 25Mbps for Ultra HD.

When Netflix shows an average bitrate of around 3Mbps for an ISP, it could therefore mean that most of the ISP’s subscribers are streaming content in standard definition.

Similarly, for ISPs that have an average above 3Mbps, it could mean that a significant chunk of its subscriber base streams HD content from Netflix.

The maximum line speeds subscribers take up with the ISPs are also a factor.

Someone on a 4Mbps DSL connection will not be able to achieve a streaming bitrate much faster than 3.5Mbps, for example.

So an ISP with a lower average bitrate may have more subscribers who have signed up for cheaper, slower accounts than an ISP with an average above 4Mbps.

The Netflix index is therefore not strictly a ranking of which ISPs are faster and slower, but an average that encapsulates many factors.

Another element that likely skews the results is that some countries have far fewer ISPs on the index than others.

While South Africa has a full top 10 list, Jamaica only has 3 ISPs listed, and Costa Rica and the Philippines only have 5 ISPs on their charts.

Now read: Netflix vs DStv – Experts predict the winner

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South Africa’s slow Netflix speeds