Choosing the right type of broadband

The market is flooded with clever advertising, offering amazing broadband products, but as the saying goes “If it is too good to be true, it probably is”. So how does the consumer discern between fact and fiction?

Let us help you clear up the confusion!

Read more as we discuss six key elements to help you choose the right broadband ISP (Internet Service Provider)

1. Types of Broadband

There are 3 major broadband options in South Africa.

ADSL broadband utilises the existing Telkom network to provide high speed internet access. Only a simple line conversion plus an ADSL modem is required for this service. It is copper line quality dependant.

Fixed Wireless: This provides the same speeds available to ADSL, but it uses wireless technology to transmit data. Users therefore have an extra antenna on their roof to pick up the internet signal. The setup costs are more than ADSL. Fixed Wireless covers both urban and rural areas, without compromising on speed.

3G/HSDPA is a mobile phone technology. However, this is only in certain 3G-enabled areas, and therefore not a good replacement for ADSL or Broadband, but more of a backup service, or if you travel frequently. Equipment needed is a 3G enabled mobile phone or 3G data card.

2. Speed

Speed is a crucial element to consider when comparing broadband services. The speed, simply put, is the time it takes for a website to load or to download files. Broadband speed ranges from 128Kbps (kilobits per second) to 4096Kbps (4Mbps). The traditional dial-up speed with a modem is 56Kbps.

Important facts regarding internet speed:

  • Currently, the highest speed available to the public in South Africa is 4Mbps.
  • 3G runs only up to 384Kbps and HSDPA runs either at 1.8Mbps or 3.6Mbps
  • Speeds are measured in kilobits per second
  • 1Mbps = 1024Kbps
  • Speeds are indicated for downloading only. Uploading speeds are slower.
  • Not all websites load at the same speed. Many factors influence this, not only the speed of the connection.

Time is an expensive commodity. One therefore always has to weigh up the price you pay for slow Internet versus the time you have to wait for Internet to load. The faster the Internet, the less time it takes to surf the Internet. Usually broadband packages that are cheaper tend to be slower, and vice versa.

3. Bandwidth

Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that is uploaded (sent) and downloaded (received).

Bandwidth is usually capped or limited and available in a variety of bundles. A “bundle” is the amount of data customers are contractually – and at a fixed price – permitted to use per month. Data accessed in excess of this bundle usually incurs extra costs.

The trend in South Africa is to advertise “uncapped” bandwidth. This is usually just a gimmick to lure customers, however true uncapped bandwidth is available at a premium, but rarely required for the average business.

Choosing the right bundle is very important. ISPs have very attractive offers of very cheap broadband with a 40MB bundle. This is not nearly enough for the average household and certainly not for a business. This will be a stretch – even for just receiving e-mail in a month. Why would you want broadband e-mail? Don’t be fooled!

Telkom used this statement in a recent advertisement to illustrate that paying for cheap broadband can be very costly:

Typically a normal household uses anything from 512 megabytes upwards. Businesses may use about 2 gigabytes per month. It is extremely difficult to estimate the monthly data usage. However, it can with near certainty be said that 40megabytes is not nearly enough. It defeats the purpose of having broadband! Movies, games, music, video clips, streaming radio, podcasts, video, Skype etc. all use a lot of data.

What happens when your monthly bundle runs out? The following options are usually implemented:

  • Whatever you use in excess of your “bundle”, you will be charged extra per gigabyte/megabyte that you use, or
  • you may experience a significant reduction in speed on your connection (usually drops to 64kbps), or
  • your service could be suspended until the next month, or
  • you may have restricted/limited access to some international websites

It is extremely important to find out from your service provider exactly which measures they apply once your bundle runs out.

4. Your Location

There is a possibility that not all the services can be provided in your area. Make sure therefore, that the internet service you want is available in your area. For rural areas, such as farms or small towns, Wireless Internet might be your only answer.

5. Support

Businesses suffer when their internet connection is not working. Consequently, it is very important to choose the ISP with the best after-sales support.

Some factors to consider are:

  • Is the support number answered by a call centre, or by staff suitably qualified to assist you?
  • Is support available 24 hours a day?
  • If need be, are they able to attend to your problem by coming out to your premises if the issue is something that cannot be fixed over the phone?
  • How long do they take to respond?
  • What type of support is available?
    • E-mail
    • Online Chat
    • Phone
    • House call
    • Fax
    • Website

6. Equipment & installation

The cost of equipment and installing broadband varies greatly. Although ADSL is the cheapest to install, the waiting period for installation is often much longer than with fixed wireless companies. Fixed wireless installations cost more, but these companies often give customers the option to lease the equipment – subject to the signing of a 24-month contract.

Also check with your ISP if there is a free dialup option in place for the times when broadband is down, so that you can still connect to the internet the old fashioned way.

In conclusion, weigh up all the options before committing to an ISP. List what is important to you and make sure that your ISP can deliver. Make a 100% sure that what an ISP says it offers, is what you get.

Read the fine print! Do not be fooled! Be informed!