Going broadband in South Africa

You’re at home. You want information fast. The internet will have it. You fire up your modem.

You yawn; make coffee; tap your fingers; imagine tumbleweed rolling across the screen while you wait for your connection to Google.

An all-too familiar scenario? You might consider going broadband. But what the hell is it? And what are ADSL, 3G, wireless, and capping?

In a nutshell, broadband is a “broad bandwidth” high-capacity permanent link to the internet which, in theory at least, provides high speed access — for normal web surfing, streaming audio or video, downloading large files or playing online games.

ADSL, despite standing for the tongue-twisting Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, simply means high-speed internet access using a telephone line. And it’s currently the most popular of the broadband options available in South Africa.

Starting block

To get started you’ll need an ADSL modem, which range in price from around R600 to R2000, although some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are giving them away for less if you sign a broadband contract.

You’ll also need a phone line from Telkom, which involves both line and ADSL installation (once-off fee of R400) and a monthly rental for both the line and digital line (the price of which depends on the bandwidth or speed of your connection).

Then you still have to decide which ISP to go with.

There are plenty of choices out there, but bear in mind that no matter what service provider you opt for, Telkom still controls the majority of ADSL infrastructure.

IT journalist James Francis points out two important rules to stick to when choosing an ISP: “Firstly, do not sign a contract that disallows month-to-month patronship — the ability to switch from one ISP to another is important in the turbulent local market.”

“And secondly, invest in an email address that isn’t ISP-bound, as this will make navigating through the ADSL market for the best deal much easier.”

You need to choose a bandwidth option — effectively the diameter of the “pipe” connecting you to the internet, so the higher the bandwidth, the faster your connection. These range in speed — and price — from 192Kb per second (compared to the 56Kbps of a standard modem) to 1024, theoretically 20 times faster than your old (un)faithful dialup connection.

And then you have to consider the amount of surfing — or file uploading and downloading — you do. Certain ISPs offer a fixed “cap”, limiting the amount of traffic (or information you transfer) in a month.

So, for example, if the package you choose comes with a one gigabyte cap, you’ll find your connection speed slow to an unbearable crawl once you’ve transferred more than 1GB of data in that month.

Other options, such as Imaginet’s, are more flexible. Operating like a cellphone contract you pay for a base amount of traffic (for example 2GB) that best suits your needs, although you’re not limited to the base. If you use more than the base, you’re only billed for the amount of extra traffic you use in predetermined increments.

Making the choice

Depending on how much time you spend on the net, your bandwidth and capping limit plays an essential part.

For beginners, Francis advises users to start with a small line and a basic flexible package, so that you can add bandwidth as you need it, instead of the hard-capping system.

For example, if you simply want to use internet to surf or check mail, you can pick a line under the 512Kbps mark.

But for serious time on downloads and constant Windows updates, for example, he recommends the DSL 1024 line.

“Unfortunately, there are no premium service for heavy users, unless you try ISPs that offer bandwidth at good rates”, says Francis.

And what will you end up paying the ISP?

Prices vary from operator to operator, so it’s worth shopping around using a site like myADSL.co.za. Telkom’s least expensive option comes in at around R500 per month, you’ll get a 3GB usage limit, while on the upper end, you can expect to pay around R900 a month for a DSL 1024 connection.

But if you can’t see the reason in spending close to a thousand rand a month for internet services, there are less expensive choices. You can pick up a 1GB 192 service for R145 per month with M-Web, while a 2GB deal can go for between R200 to R300 a month with lesser-known ISPs, but be aware that some of these deals involve signing on for a minimum contract period.

Expanding your choice

Another broadband option is wireless — a digital, satellite based connection provided by Sentech.

The service comes with a free modem at about R850 a month, but reception is restricted to urban areas — limiting the spirit of free wireless roaming — and comes with a potentially restrictive 25-month contract capped at 20GB.

Alternatively, MTN and Vodacom have devised their own 3G cellphone-based services. These essentially allow you to access the Net from your laptop anywhere you have cellphone reception, with 256Kbs download speed — the same as wireless.

The costs, ranging from R1 per megabyte, are added to your monthly itemised phone bills, but the modems aren’t interchangeable between the two networks.

By Marchelle Hermanus, published on iafrica.com.

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1 Comment »

  1. Charl Thom said,

    March 21, 2006 @ 3:35 am

    Please provide info on entry level broadband options & costs available on Cape West Coast (St Helena Bay area).

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