How to choose ISP or consumer Internet access in South Africa

This is a portion of an interview for Huisgenoot magazine from 2007. I’m not even sure if it was ever published because the journalist was forced to redo the initial interview, which focussed on Skype to include a few questions about Internet access.


ADSL modem and network cable unpluggedThis is a portion of an interview for Huisgenoot magazine from 2007. I’m not even sure if it was ever published because the journalist was forced to redo the initial interview, which focussed on Skype to include a few questions about Internet access.

1. What are the different Internet access options available to South African consumers?

Dial-up: is the original mechanism used by home users to connect to the Internet access. Your computer connects to the Internet via telephone line. Your operating system like WindowsXP or Linux uses a modem to connect a computer and a telephone line to dial into an Internet service provider’s (ISP) node to establish a modem-to-modem link, which is then routed to the Internet. It is an analogue connection and by comparison the slowest Internet connection. Prices vary from R45 to R145 per month.

ISDN: is a circuit-switched telephone network system, designed to allow digital transmission of voice and data over ordinary telephone copper wires, resulting in better quality and higher data speeds than
are available with analogue. It was often used in videoconferencing because it provides simultaneous voice, video, and text transmissions. Pricing is a combination of monthly subscription + hours dialed into the Internet.

Broadband: is an “always-on” on Internet connection which can be both over fixed telephone lines (ADSL) or wireless connections. Research by Arthur Goldstuck predictes South Africa will have 1.37 million broadband users by end of 2008.

  • ADSL is the form of DSL of all broadband connections. Telkom launched commercial ADSL in 2002 and prices have come down several times since then. Bandwidth capacity and speed has increased now to where up to 4mbps is available. Most ISPs offer ADSL and prices range widely depending on how much bandwith you use. Beginners should start with 1Gig account and business users 3Gigs.
  • 3G: is the 3rd generation of cellphone standards and technology. 3G technologies enable cellphone network operators to offer users a wider range of more advanced services while achieving greater network capacity through improved efficiency. Pricing varies based on many different packages. You can purchase a contract and get the modem free; you can buy the moden and use pre-paid airtime; or you can use a 3G/HSDPA phone to connect using Bluetooth. HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) is a new mobile data protocol and is sometimes referred to as a 3.5G (or “3½G”) technology. It’s available from Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Virgin Mobile.
  • iBurst: is based on IntelliCell technology from ArrayComm in the US. It uses radio frequencies with base stations and modems. Pricing vary from R49 to R1099 per month. They operate on a reseller model like ADSL so you can purchase it from most ISPs.
  • MyWireless: is a form of Internet connectivity that uses “wireless” technology by creating a radio-based connection to the Internet using network of specially erected towers (base stations). As such, MyWireless provides a secure Internet telecommunications platform at speeds of up to 512kbps. It’s similar to iBurst. Pricing varies from R499 to R1500 per month.

All internet connections require a modem unless you are using your cell phone as a modem. There are packages that includes free modems and some that don’t which can be more expensive per month.

2. Which one of these Internet access connections is the best?

ADSL is the best option because bandwidth options available are currently much more flexible than wireless broadband packages. The bandwidth costs are also the lowest when you work out per Gig costs. You do not have the flexibility of the wireless connections but with wireless hotspots you can still use your Internet connection, through a laptop, from locations like the airport, most major hotels and a growing list of coffee shops and restaurants.

3. What Internet access connection is the most cost effective?

iBurst has the cheapest entry level package at R49 per month, which is cheaper than most dial-up connections. However, this excludes a modem which can cost more than R2000. ADSL broadband packages now start at R199 which includes modems and the month bandwidth usage often billed separately.

4. What do you need to get your Internet connection going?

Whatever type of Internet connection you choose, the free modem option for a 12 or 24 month contract is the way to go. Unless you have some rather unusual reason to avoid the contract, you do not loose when prices come down. I’ve had Telkom Closer 5 packages with the fastes ADSL since it was launched and every time prices came down, I received a discount on my mothly bill. There are so many different packages which is confusing to the novice Internet user. So once you chose ADSL that modem cannot work with iBurst or 3G for example. Choose the one you think you can stick with for at least 12-24 months and if need be sell it to someone else if you move to another type of Internet access connection.

5. What are the different Internet service providers (ISPs)?

You can get dial-up, IDSN or ADSL directly from Telkom Internet, which again is simpler because its added to your your monthly telephone bill. And I highly recommended the Telkom Closer packages for residential users. If you already have a dial-up with MWEB or someone else it may be worth upgrading to ADSL or iBurst. If you do not have a landline 3G is the way to go with either Vodacom or MTN. You can get 3G packages from your cellphone provider. There are over 150 small ISPs in South Africa.

6. How do you go about choosing an ISP?

The easiest way to choose an ISP is to ask your current telecommunications provider (Telkom or your cellphone company). Now if you are already on a dial-up connection and thinking of upgrading to broadband read through this thread on the MyADSL forum. Otherwise ask a friend or colleague who has been on the Internet for more than 2 years for a recommendation.

7. Who is the best Internet Service Provider?

They are all different depending whether you go fixed line or wireless. I have used Telkom Internet because I have enjoyed the benefits of the Telkom Closer packages. And I get one bill at the end of the month. However, I have recently had 3 months of very bad service from them and I am now looking for a new ISP as my own demand for bandwidth and service increases. Last year I purchased a 3G contract with Nashua Mobile who have also let me down in how ridiculously inflexible they are with their cellphone and 3G contracts. I don’t like their billing system and recommend you avoid a 3G/HSDPA contract like this: get a cellphone that supports 3G/HSDPA or Wifi and buy a data bundle as an when you need it. . Many of the smaller ISPs are able to deliver personalised services so at least call 2 or 3 of them.


Author: RJ Thomas

RJ Thomas is an International Relationship Builder. He was born in South Africa, and moved to China in 2013.

  • First off, I think the article is very informative. It speaks to people’s need for options when it comes to spending their hard earned money.

    I do however think in the interest of fairness it would have been prudent to mention the roll of Telkom competitors, in as far as driving the price war between ISP’s are concerned. Here I think of MWEB, Polka and others now being able to do all of the installations themselves. The buck still stops with Telkom, Since Neotel is still some way from being close to Telkom in terms of infrastructure. I believe this to be important , because as far as I’m aware, only landline account-holders have access to ADSL. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

    What also struck me in this article, is that you do not elaborate ( in my opinion ) enough on the emergance of satellite as a connection option.

    I’m going to leave it there for now. Looking forward to your response.

  • Pat

    Sorry this comment from 5th November has me confused – roll as in bread roll or role as in role model?
    The article was outstanding and extremely informative. Assisted me in making a decision to go with Telkom.

  • Thank you for your comment Pat. I will be adding more about Satellite internet access in South Africa to this shortly. Kahlil was referring to the role of Telkom competitors.

    BTW, Polka is owned by MWEB. They are the same company!

  • Keith

    Excellent article. Very informative for an Amish like me new to the Web. Nice to read an article that didnt have “Click here pick me” adverts splashed across the page.

    Just one question. I have a laptop and am looking for something that will give me as wide a coverage as possible in SA. Connection speeds don’t really bother me. I will be travelling quite a bit, so I would like to know that whether Im in a klein dorpie outside Krugersdorp or Cape Town central; I’ll still be able to connect. I’ve been told that in this respect, Vodacom 3G is probably better than iburst. Looking at the iburst coverage areas and they arent great, in fact they’re quite poor where I stay in Wynberg, CT. So mobility is my main thing. Then I heard about using your phone as a modem, which seems cheaper than 3G. Just looking for the best, and hopefully cost efficient, choice when it comes to mobility. An additional benefit would be something I can use outside of SA.

    Props to the kind soul who will help this confused mind haha

    Good article, nice

  • Some pricing updates are probably in order. Once the new drop in ADSL pricing kicks in I will review this article with the latest trends and comparisons. Keith to answer your question I highly recommend Vodacom 3G because I have used it from the smallest towns to the biggest cities in South Africa. One big advantage is that it’s very easy with Vodacom to check your data usage. For the life of me I cannot find anyone who can show me how to do this with MTN data SIM. Avoid iBurst where possible because the mobile networks are increasing coverage and speed at a much faster pace.

  • Mike

    Try this one for size. Take note that, obviously, you do need a normal Telkom telephone line that can handle ADSL.
    Go buy yourself a cheapie ADSL router / modem and then go to:-
    They sort out the rest and just look what they give you:-
    Cheaper ADSL line rental.
    Bandwidth that rolls over.
    Cheap Local bandwidth (about R12 / Gig).
    Real good 27/7 support. Try them out. Phone the toll-free number and ask how to set up an account.
    No contract.
    I am real happy with these guys.

  • @Mike

    your “27/7” support makes me wonder about the rest of your post too….

  • Niel

    Thank you. I needed this. I am also one of those guys travelling around with a laptop and need internet anytime night or day in a ‘klein’ dorpie or city!

    Will try Vodacom – I hope its fast enough for skype though!! Any thoughts on skype through 3G or 3.5G Ramon? niel

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