I wanted to investigate the typical experience of a Cameroonian Internet user while visiting the websites of the major Internet Service Providers (ISPs). I figured that the time and energy a company puts into optimising their website for slow connections might indicate how focused they are as a company on their customers. After all, if ISPs know what bandwidth they are giving their customers then surely they will have optimised their sites to work well on those connections?
In addition I hope that this post will highlight the fact that you must optimise your site for low-bandwidth users, especially if you operate in countries with poor Internet connectivity. In fact it’s not too hard to do these days if you take a few simple steps, but first you need to be aware of the issue.
Having lived in Cameroon for the last two years I’m more than familiar with surfing on a poor unreliable connection and it staggers me that so few Cameroonian companies have made an effort to improve the user experience for the majority of people who visit their websites over these slow connections. Internet users in Cameroon either have their own 128 kbps “broadband” connection or they are at an Internet cafÃ© that shares a slow connection between their users (who are all on Facebook and YouTube competing for the bandwidth available). Some are using USBÂ dongles to access mobile data networks, but as none of the operators have a 3G license users are stuck at slower GPRS speeds with patchy coverage.
The major ISPs in Cameroon today are:
- Camtel — the state-owned incumbent who has a monopoly on all the fibre in the country and the SAT3 cable, all other ISPs must buy bandwidth from Camtel. Camtel provides Internet access via ADSL or over Wireless using CDMA.
- MTN — the mobile operator with the largest market share, providing Internet through GPRS, wireless hotspots and WiMax.
- Orange — the second largest mobile operator, providing Internet through GPRS and WiMax.
- Ringo — they claim to have more bandwidth available than their competitors (apart from Camtel). Ringo is using proprietary SCDMA based McWill technology from XinWei in China and have also started to provide wireless hotspots in the major cities.
- Matrix Telecoms — ISP using wireless technology to provide access.
- Creolink — uses cable to provide access to their customers.
I’ve tried to summarise the cheapest options for consumers from each of these ISPs in the table below.
[table “2” seems to be empty /]
As you can see 128 kbps is pretty typical, even if some providers claim to have faster speeds the actual speed is closer to 128 kbps in real world conditions. Price wise they are all pretty similar, though it’s quite a difference from the prices we are used to paying in Europe! For example, from Virgin in the UK you can pay â‚¬15 a month forÂ a claimed 10 Mbps.
Analysis and Results
So given all of this I thought I would do a comparative analysis of the major Cameroonian ISP’s websites to see how they actually fared on a typical 128 kbps connection. I used a combination of pipes and the ipfw command on my mac (for bandwidth simulation), Page Speed/YSlow plugins for Firefox and the developer tools in Google Chrome to measure the page load results. The tools used and approach wasn’t totally scientific but they give a pretty good indication of real performance. If you are interested in running this test yourself Aptivate have a great blog post of how to do this. The metrics I measured were:
- Page load time, empty cache and primed cache
- Page size, empty cache and primed cache
- Number of HTTP Requests, empty cache and primed cache
- Page Speed Score
- YSlow Grade
The table below details the results.
A comparison of website performance of the major ISPs in Cameroon over a simulated 128kbps connection.
|Website||Page load time||Page size||Number of HTTP Requests||Page Speed Score||YSlow Grade
|http://www.matrixtelecoms.com/||15s / 4.5s||587K / 6.9K||30 / 2||86||88
|http://www.camtel.cm/||25s (50s) / 6s||339K / 0.0K||22 / 22||87||84
|http://www.mtn.cm/||28s / 7s||191K / 41.6K||20 / 20||76||80
|http://www.orange.cm/||44s / 10s||424K / 37.7K||56 / 56||75||81
|http://www.ringo.cm/||66s / 9s||746K / 10.9K||69 / 69||65||66
|http://www.creolink.cm/||66s / 21s||2171K / 96.8K||123 / 108||70||65
Note 1: Where two figures are given this is for the scenarios of an empty cache and then a primed cache.
Note 2: Page Speed and YSlow scores are out of 100.
Note 3: When the cache is empty both Camtel and Creolinks sites load at the time stated but keep loading flash content in the background consuming further bandwidth.
Note 4: The Ringo site had 26 broken links or errors that keep the browser trying to render long after the page was loaded.
Note 5: Though the HTML of the Creolink site loads quickly, flash keeps the page loading until it has downloaded over 2 MB of content.
On the whole the results are pretty disappointing and show just how out of touch with their users the ISPs really are, Matrix does best with a page load time of 15 seconds, not too bad but they still have room for improvement, in comparison it takes 10 seconds to load www.google.cm’s 174K page when the cache is empty and 1 second when primed. The results for the other websites go from bad to worse to incredible!
What is really frightening about these results is that the slowest loading sites took nearly a minute or more, surely none of their customers spend that long waiting for the sites to load or much time browsing on their pages. The big culprit in all of this is of course Flash! As far as I’m concerned it just isn’t a technology that should be used on websites, especially in low-bandwidth situations. Usually countries where bandwidth is very low the PCs being used to the access the Internet are old and slow and Flash causes even more problems as it hogs CPU, a double whammy of user pain.
Flash used on these sites to promote the ISP’s products, however because they take so long to display the user has usually moved on by the time they load so they don’t even achieve the aim that justified Flash in the fist place.
One interesting point to note is that though MTN’s site has a relatively small size in comparison to some of the other sites, with very few HTTP requests, they still take a long time to load because they redirect the browser several times, this significantly increases the total time it takes to load the page.
All the sites tested could improve their page load times by taking the recommended steps in the Page Speed and YSlow plugins, removing errors and broken HTML and mostly by removing Flash.
In conclusion we can see that most Internet Service Providers in Cameroon seem to be out of touch with their customers and pay little attention to the user experience on their websites AND Flash is very bad in low-bandwidth situations!
Does a website reflect a company’s treatment of their customers in real life? I’m curious to hear what your experience is, please leave a comment below.