Wehe is an app that shows if your ISP is throttling internet traffic

We tested it out in the UAE and got some interesting results…

01 February 2018
by Mike Priest

It’s common knowledge that UAE telcos restrict access to Skype due on the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) prohibiting the use of VoIP apps within the country.

What has always been a bit unclear, however, is that there are often reports of people being able to use Skype to call friends and family overseas without any problem, whilst others can’t seem to get through for love nor money.

Whether or not Skype works on Etisalat or du at any given time (via WiFi or mobile data) always seems to be a grey area. That is until now.

Thanks to a new app called Wehe, users are now able to run a series of tests to see how Skype and internet traffic from other key apps is impacted by local telcos.

WHAT IS WEHE? (AND A FEW WORDS ON NET NEUTRALITY)

Wehe is an app developed by researchers from Northeastern University and The University of Massachusetts Amherst available for free on both Android and iOS.

The purpose of the app is to allow users in the United States to test whether their network providers are throttling bandwidth to services such as Netflix or YouTube ahead of a mass repeal of net neutrality laws that is set to come into effect later in the year.

For those not in the know, net neutrality essentially states that all traffic on the Internet should be equal and that network providers shouldn’t be allowed to give preference to one service over another to the detriment of their customers.

With these laws removed, it means that telcos can, for example, make an app like YouTube run slower on their network unless Google agrees to pay them a fee or, even worse, that customers wanting to use YouTube might need to pay X dollars a month to their telco for access to something akin to a “YouTube Unlimited” plan. Pretty nefarious stuff!

Wehe lets you test whether any of this slowing down of services is going on behind the scenes any time you attempt to listen of music on Spotify or watch an episode of Stranger Things on Netflix.

HOW DOES WEHE WORK?

Well, this is the clever part. Wehe monitors the internet traffic generated by a handful of apps – Netflix, NBC Sports, YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon Video, Spotify and, you guessed it, Skype – when they are in use and then mimics what is happening using its own servers.

The app sends data through your network provider designed to resemble whichever of the above apps you specify and measures the throughput speed in megabits per second. It then resends the same data, this time scrambling it so that the network provider can’t tell if the data is coming from any one specific app. Once both results are received, the throughput speeds are compared against each other to see whether the provider is throttling internet traffic based on the content of the data.

i.e. If the app shows a faster speed when the data is scrambled, compared to when the network provider can recognise what app the data is coming from, then this means that throttling has occurred.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU RUN WEHE IN THE UAE?

What’s interesting about Wehe is that it isn’t restricted just to the US. In fact, the app works fine here in the UAE . So we decided to run some tests using Wehe on Wi-Fi and mobile data across both Etisalat and du to see if what would happen. You can see our results below:

Etisalat:

du:

As you can see, in each instance when running the app (we tested it against services that are relevant to us here in the UAE) Skype showed a differentiation in results every time – dropping from around a speedy 2Mb/s when scrambled data was used, to a virtually unusable 0Mb/s when the network provider recognised that the data was coming from Skype.

Netflix, YouTube and even Spotify (which is yet to officially launch locally) showed no differentiation in speed regardless of whether or not the data was scrambled.

We have reached out to both Etisalat and du for a comment and will update this story as and when we hear back.

Feel free to give the app a go yourselves and post your results in the comments, we’re interested to see if you get the same results.

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