The Fifth Column: ADSL Price Wars
It is a very interesting time to be an ADSL consumer. There have been lots of changes in pricing as well as bandwidth caps recently. Even Telkom has come to the party with reduced pricing and the implementation of their soft caps. With these changes it is a good time to make a comparison of some of the deals on offer and determine which product offers the best value. We can also see how the 3G offering stacks up against ADSL.
The biggest surprises came from Telkom. They have reduced the cost of their uncapped packages, removed the hard cap from their capped accounts and also changed the throttling on their uncapped accounts. You can check out the new uncapped pricing here, previously the Telkom uncapped accounts were subject to throttling at peak times but this has since been changed. You can now achieve full line speed, all day on your uncapped account and from what people tell me it does not matter what protocols you are using.
The change to the capped accounts is probably the biggest news of all. Telkom states that you now have unlimited Internet and email access on their previously capped accounts. The only limitations pertain to peer to peer, news server and torrent traffic. This means that once you reach your soft cap, the only protocols that will continue to function at full speed are normal web surfing and email access, all other protocols will be throttled. The soft caps have not been in effect for very long and I am keen to see how well it works in practise.
But Telkom is not the only game in town, WebAfrica has responded by dropping the price of their uncapped products. They have also recently moved their network to the Internet Solutions (IS) backbone. This is a good move given that IS has the infrastructure to ensure that WebAfrica’s product offerings are competitive. Let’s hope that they don’t run into the teething problems that Afrihost experienced when they made the move to MTN’s network. A few people that I spoke to mentioned that their line speed and latency deteriorated significantly after the move to MTN but I have also heard more recent reports that the service has improved. I have not tested the service myself but given the anecdotal evidence, the initial problems might just have been related to Afrihost working out the kinks in the new network.
In addition to these well known ISPs there are a few others that I have come across which are less well known but have innovative product offerings. The first one is Plugg which is an ISP run by IS. Their ADSL accounts are similarly priced to the rest of the market with one key exception, their uncapped accounts allow for two concurrent connections. Thus far I have not found any other ISP that offers this feature. So if you can find someone to share with, you can effectively halve the price of your Internet account.
Next in line is Lantic, they have a bolt-on uncapped account which can be used at off peak times. This means that the account is active after hours during the week, ie. 6pm to 6am and all weekend. It is arguably the cheapest uncapped account available at R59/month and is available on a month to month basis which means that you can test it without being locked into a tricky long term contract. As the name implies, you add it to one of their existing ADSL accounts so if you signed up for their 1Gb account and added the bolt-on, you would have after hours uncapped Internet for less than R100/month.
Despite the ADSL price drops, the cheapest broadband connection is still 3G because it does not require any line rental. Both 8ta and Cell C have attractively priced packages with large after hours caps which are ideal for downloads. But there is a huge difference between the deal on paper and how it performs in the real world. I have had both the 8ta and Cell C accounts and the experience has been awful. Both accounts worked well for the first few months and then the speed dropped to the equivalent of a 384Kbps line. I only play games on Xbox Live and although the latency was better on Cell C than it was on 8ta, the connection was too inconsistent to be used for gaming. I would only suggest 3G as the absolute last resort. Perhaps the launch of LTE will provide us with better wireless broadband options but I would not hold my breath.
Given the recent changes in the ADSL market place we now have a lot more choice than ever before. ADSL has never been cheaper and the speeds have never been faster than they are currently. Now is as good a time as any to try out an uncapped account or even try out a faster line speed. But whatever you do, steer well clear of 8ta and Cell C’s data offerings, unless you want to re-live the bad old days of slow speeds and poor latency.