The Fifth Column: The Not So Broad Band
I had never considered using 3G as my primary internet connection but after I had my phone line stolen twice, I decided to switch to a wireless internet solution. I did not have any problems with my ADSL aside from having it ripped out of the ground, but this was of course only one of my problems. The other problem was getting the rebate from Telkom for the time that my line was faulty. Their automated rebate system did not work as advertised and it took many phone calls before I was finally reimbursed. I had to battle for my rebate on two occasions and after the second time I decided to take a break from Telkom for a while.
Once the dust had settled, I scouted around for a 3G internet solution. MTN and Vodacom were non starters because of their exorbitant tariffs. This left me with the choice of either 8ta or Cell C. I was loathe to go with another Telkom product but once 8ta released their 120GB offering I was persuaded to give them a try. I first purchased a 2GB test account and this appeared to work well. My speeds were in the region of between 100 and 300 Kbps which was a significant upgrade from my 384 Kbps ADSL line. I also tested a Cell C sim card which offered much better speeds but at the time Cell C did not have an affordable bandwidth offering.
I took the plunge and spent R1800 on 120GB 8ta package. Initially the speed was very good and it did not dip below 1 Mbps and sometimes peaked at 3Mbps. I spoke to two colleagues of mine who also had 8ta accounts. The one had a solid speed with no disconnections and the other had frequent disconnections and maxed out at 1Mbps. I counted myself lucky because although I did not have a very high speed, I did not have any disconnections, well this was for the first five months at least. In the last month things have changed dramatically. My connection speed has dropped to less than 1Mbps and now hovers between 384Kbps and 512Kbps. I also have frequent disconnections. I have checked all the standard settings. I have re-installed the modem software and also checked that I have the latest firmware loaded on my 3G modem but this has not fixed the problem. The dashboard states that my signal strength is more than 90% and the only conclusion that I can draw is that the base station is oversubscribed and has more connections than it can manage. This makes sense given that the 120GB promotion has been running for some time now and has most probably garnered a lot more subscribers.
Should you switch to 8ta? Well if your line has been stolen on more than one occasion or if you are tired of paying Telkom twice for the same piece of copper then it might be a good idea to go wireless. But 8ta is not the only game in town. Cell C has launched their own offering which has a 200GB cap and a similar price point to 8ta. I have tested my Cell C sim in the same USB dongle that I use for my 8ta sim card and I get much better speeds and far better latency. Once all my 8ta data has been used, I will definitely switch to the Cell C package but this will probably only be in a few months time.
I would not recommend 8ta as a viable 3G solution. Even when I had good speeds, the latency was far from ideal, this applied to normal web surfing but more especially when playing on Xbox Live. I played a lot of Survival Mode in Modern Warfare 3 and frequently had to swap out my 8ta sim with my Cell C sim because the latency made the game virtually unplayable. My suggestion would be to go with the Cell C option and only buy the 8ta deal if your Cell C reception is inadequate.
A very important factor to bear in mind is that the local broadband market is changing quite rapidly at the moment. Both ADSL and 3G options have never been cheaper than they are now. Your best bet would be to choose a service provider that offers a month to month option and not sign up for any long term broadband contracts regardless of the carrot that they dangle in front of you. Given the rapid change in broadband products and pricing, you don’t want to be locked into a contract and not be able to take advantage of lower pricing when new products are released into the market. If your line gets stolen at least you have the option of purchasing a reasonably priced 3G replacement as a stopgap measure.