The Fifth Column: Slow, Fast, Faster Internet Access
I have vivid memories of using a 56Kbps modem to validate my Half-Life 2 installation a few short years ago. Since then we have made significant progress in local broadband access. We have gone from the snail paced dial up modems to 192Kbps ADSL all they way to the blisteringly fast 10Mbps lines. Regardless of the improvements in our local ADSL access, there is always an opinion that speeds should be faster or that prices should be lower. Given the recent changes announced by Telkom, now might be a good time to review the progress that we have made in our local broadband market.
Broadband access started with the not so awesome 192Kbps speed as I mentioned earlier. In addition you had the option of a 384 or 512Kbps line. Over time the 192Kbps speed was dropped and 384 became the slowest line speed available. Then the 1, 2 and 4Mbps lines were introduced. After another round of upgrades on the Telkom network the 384Kbps line was dropped and 1Mbps became the slowest line speed and the between 4 and 10Mbps speed was introduced. The most recent announcement by Telkom is that line speeds are to be upgraded again starting in November 2013 and continuing into 2014. This means that 2Mbps will be the slowest line speed and that the 4 and 10Mbps line speed will be seperated into two distinct products.
Over the last few years there has been real improvement in broadband speeds and bandwidth product offerings. With the latest round of line upgrades from Telkom, your line speed will double at no extra cost which means that 1Mbps will get you 2, 2 will get you 4 and 4 will get you 10Mbps. I am quite excited to get my 4Mbps because faster is always better right? But on the other I wonder whether I really need the speed increase. I started out my broadband connectivity with a 384Kbps line which was fine for basic Internet access but not much else. My line was bumped up to 1Mbps by our friends at Telkom which more than doubled my line speed. My line was now good for low definition video streaming in addition to web surfing but on a 1Mbps line I could not do both at the same time. I then upgraded to the the 2Mbps line which I now have, it is far more versatile because I am able to stream 480p video and surf websites without any problems. The other advantage is that I can download game updates, demos and the free Xbox games from Live at twice the speed which is a major selling point of my faster line.
Do I need more speed? Well that is debatable and really boils down to what I could use it for. A 4Mbps line would 1/2 my ‘waiting time’ again but I normally set any downloads to run while I am sleeping so that is not really a time saving. The additional speed would not help with my latency in Xbox Live matches, so that’s another tick in the ‘No’ column. I would be able to stream 720 and 1080p video which would look great on my TV but that in turn could lead me to a Hulu and/or Netflix subscription which is yet another cost on top of my broadband subscription. Despite my misgivings, I think that I will try out my 4Mbps upgrade once it rolls around and see if it really is a free lunch. I will test out a trial Netflix and Unotelly account and I will be sure to report my findings once I have done some in depth testing.
In summary, the gradual upgrade of the Telkom network has provided us with more bang for our hard earned DSL buck. We have come a long way from dial up modems and 192Kbps line speeds and now have real broadband access which allows us access to a wide variety of high definition, online entertainment. The major stumbling block is still the cost of entry, especially the double charge for the single bit of copper to your house. But despite this, I think that it is important to maintain some perspective on how far we have come in the area of broadband Internet access. I for one cannot imagine waiting for a download on a 56Kbps modem, can you?