There are pros and cons to every type of Internet connectivity, so how are you supposed to know which is the best network for your work from home or to run a business?
Choosing one can become difficult. There are five main types, but each has its own pros and cons, and they come with technical terms which for non-technical people can be a bit of a headache.
First off, the main options in South Africa are fibre, ADSL, fixed wireless, mobile wireless, and satellite. Not all are available everywhere, though. Each has its pros and cons and knowing them can help you have a better connectivity experience.
*Check the technical terms at the bottom of this article if you’re unsure what they are in the following descriptions.
Connectivity Types for Best Network
We’re WAPA, the Wireless Access Providers Association of South Africa, so you could say we’re biased toward fixed wireless. But many of our members (WISP) also supply other connection types, such as satellite and fibre, so we try to ensure we give a more balanced view.
Fixed wireless is a widespread and rapidly growing phenomenon in South Africa. It’s becoming the go-to service for many home users and businesses because it’s one of the quicker, more cost-effective ways for service providers to get broadband Internet to lots of people, even over longer distances. Unlike fibre, you don’t need a cable going to every home or business. Instead, you use a radio dish, which looks like a small satellite dish. The service provider typically connects everyone to towers that are in turn connected to the major national fibre networks, so the speeds are excellent and the service reliable.
Fixed wireless is one of the most flexible ways to connect and it also tends to be uncapped, which means you won’t get cut off or have your speeds throttled if you use the Internet a lot.
Fibre is a great service – if you can get it. The reality is that fibre only connects a small percentage of South Africans, even with the aggressive rollouts from some service providers.
As the fibre market consolidates with a few of the bigger service providers snapping up smaller competitors, they sometimes struggle to integrate their networks. The result is that quality of service suffers.
It’s expensive to deploy fibre, which is why there are generally no or few competitors in a given area. That gives customers like you little option if the service is poor. Also, as a result of the cost of deployment, fibre is increasingly being used to rather connect the wireless towers. The towers give much more cost-effective coverage for an area and they’re a lot faster to install.
ADSL can be a lot less expensive overall than other options but you get low speeds for your money. Speeds can be as low as 5Mbps for a few hundred rands a month, which is the bear minimum Netflix says you need to stream in high definition. And that’s all you’ll be able to do on the line – if it’s operating at top speed. The further you are from the telephone box on the corner the worse the ADSL connection is. Plus, it’s susceptible to theft of the copper wire. That’s such a problem it’s suggested to be the reason behind Telkom phasing ADSL out. So, it’s not readily available anymore. But it can be a cost-effective way to work if it’s available and you’re on a tight budget. You will probably need a faster line if you want to do Zoom or Teams meetings with your video on and still e-mail and work online. With ADSL being gradually phased out, it will likely be replaced by fibre or, more likely, wireless, so consider the cost of installing new router or other equipment if you have to make the switch at a later stage.
Cellular mobile is great if you want to get connected because you simply hotspot off your phone and away you go. Or get a dedicated cellular router with its own SIM and you’re off. The problem is it’s one of the more expensive ways to connect in South Africa. And, although coverage across the country looks really good on paper, the snag is that the speeds drop off quickly as you move out of densely populated areas and away from major arterial traffic routes across the country. 3G, which is widely available, isn’t good enough for Zoom or Teams but you can get by on it for e-mail and basic web browsing in a pinch. You need 4G or better to get a decent connectivity experience for business.
Satellite is excellent because it provides connectivity for people in areas where no other connection will reach. Farmers, for example, often rely on satellite as their only way to connect. But right now, it’s typically slower than other options and expensive. Even if Elon Musk’s new Starlink satellite service one day comes to South Africa (it promises much better speeds and much lower monthly costs than current satellite) it looks likely to be very expensive to install and on top of that monthly fees will still be similar to high speed fibre.
The technical terms can actually be quite easy to understand and not as confusing as they may first seem. There are many more, but the ones below are the main ones you’ll encounter when you compare the different offerings.
Symmetrical and asymmetrica
Symmetrical and asymmetrical just mean you get the same upload and download speeds. Uploads affect things like how long it takes to send e-mail and save stuff to something like Dropbox or Google Drive. Symmetrical is generally better if you rely on a service such as Google Drive, Dropbox or do a lot of Teams of Zoom meetings. It’s not always a deal breaker. Even if there are many people in the online meeting, you’ll need to download a lot more than you upload. Yours will be the only video feed that gets uploaded while you will need to download everyone else’s.
Capped and uncapped
Capped and uncapped relate to how much data you can download in a period, usually a month. For example, let’s say you have a 50Mbps line and you watch Netflix. The 50Mbps is the speed of your line but you’ll likely download around 3GB of data per hour watching your shows. The same can apply if you do a lot of online meetings. If you have a capped line, you’ll need to watch how much you download but with uncapped it’s no problem. Capped lines often cost less than uncapped – but not always. It depends on the type of connectivity.
Fair use policy
Fair use is a policy some service providers apply to some of their connection options. They’ll usually offer something like an uncapped service with a fair use policy. You’ll have to dig a little deeper into what their specific fair use policy is. It will mean that, even if you have a 50Mbps connection for example, if you download a certain amount of data within a specified period (usually a week or month) they’ll then reduce the speed of your line. By how much they reduce the speed and after how much data is what you must check. Make sure it’s still enough for your needs, particularly when you’re relying on the connection for work. Fair use is a way to ensure that a few people don’t hog the available network bandwidth, leaving the others with a poor quality service.