Posted on July 15, 2010 · Posted in SF Fellow

Updated Sun July 18, 2010 – see WebAfrica addition

In workshops for Siyavula, FullMarks or Connexions we require internet access which has proven to be quite a challenge at some venues (read more about our favourite solution here). This particular challenge always elicits one particular question from the audience: “What is the best/cheapest deal for internet access?” There is no right answer but a lot of our workshop participants are so overwhelmed they don’t even know where to start looking. So here are some personal thoughts on what to start with based on my personal access at home. If you know of better deals please leave a comment so that we can be sure to give the educators in our workshops the best information.

I don’t endorse/support/guarantee any of these products or information. This is just some advice to help get you started when looking for the best deal – you are ultimately responsible for your own choice. I’ve put my choice at the bottom so you know where my money is going.

Companies update their packages all the time but remember that prices should be coming down so you should not pay more than the options listed here but if you can find a cheaper one go for it. These are the best deals we know about but hopefully better deals will be available soon.

Every different kind of service has a different acronym and there are sometimes, not always, technical differences. This is not a training resource just a quick pointer so if you want to learn what it all means you will need to do a little more research.

DSL / ADSL / iDSL (what iBurst call their ADSL package)

Important points:

  • You need a Telkom line and you will have to pay Telkom a monthly fee
  • This is before you actually get internet access – this is just the possibility of internet access.
  • You need to connect through your Telkom line so this is a fixed solution – you can’t move from place to place with it.
  • You also need an Internet Service Provider (ISP) – Telkom do this but you can easily use someone else
  • Generally, this is the cheapest, fastest solution.

You can buy a certain amount of data that you can download (called a capped account) and you usually pay per Gigabyte (GB, gig). Best deal I know about here is:

  1. Telkom line with ADSL activated (any speed – 384k (slow) or 512k (a bit faster) or 4096k (also called 4 Meg)
    (fast)) but with AfriHost as your ISP (R29 per GB – no long term contract)

  2. Updated – WebAfrica left me a comment below that they’ve got a better deal – you can get 1GB for R59 but then top up at R15 per GB which means that if you are buying 5GB its cheaper to buy their 1GB option and then top-up to 5GB. Note – top-up prices change rapidly – notice that the WebAfrica price for 4GB per month is R199 – so even that is more expensive than their own 1GB deal topped up to 5GB – which tells me to keep a careful eye on this.

Or you can pay a fixed monthly fee and download as much as you liked (this is an uncapped account). Best deals:

  • Telkom line with ADSL activated (any speed – 384k (slow) or 512k (a bit faster) or 4 Meg
    (fast) but with:

    1. AfriHost as your ISP – R197 per month
    2. MWeb as your ISP – R219 per month (they have ads on TV you might have seen – bigger marketing budget than AfriHost)

Generally an uncapped account is good where you have multiple people accessing the account and don’t want to worry about how quickly your cap is going to be used up. Uncapped accounts generally don’t deliver quite the same performance as a capped account.

Shaped versus un-shaped accounts. The bandwidth for shaped accounts is dynamically managed by the ISP. They will typically throttle file-sharing programs like bittorrent. If you are not planning to use bittorrent or other high-demand applications, you are probably OK with a shaped account. If you don’t know what those are then you aren’t planning to use them!

3G / Wireless / HDSPA / WiMAX and other funky acronyms

Important points:

  • This is when you connect through your cellphone network – just like browsing the internet on your phone
  • You don’t need to be tied to a Telkom line
  • You do need decent signal so you can use this anywhere you can pick up a decent signal
  • Cellphone reception isn’t sufficient, you must be able to pick up 3G / EDGE / HSDPA
  • You will connect your laptop or computer to a device (dongle, cellphone) that will connect to the internet wirelessly (just like the difference between Telkom phones and cellphones)

Generally this is the more flexible option giving you access in many different places but is more expensive and slower. It can be a good idea to have a 3G account as a backup for time when you are either on the road or when your other account is down for any reason.

Best deal I know about:

  1. MTN cheapest rates for data bundles and best out-of-bundle rates .

My Personal Approach

To start off with (back in 2007) I didn’t want to be tied to Telkom for a long-term contract. Telkom doesn’t feel to me like the provider that’ll give you the best deal, service or most innovative products. I had Telkom install my phone line on a Closer 4 package which includes ADSL and the ADSL modem but with no service provider specified. I knew from previous experience that most of my internet usage will be from a single location and so a mobile solution wasn’t necessary.

I have the slowest ADSL account (384k). I must admit that I cannot see why anyone would buy the middle speed ADSL account (512k), its only a little bit faster but at double price because the fastest option (4Meg) is only a bit more expensive than 512k but is 8 times faster (max speed). Here are the current Telkom monthly prices with the speed increase:

  • 384k – R152 per month
  • 512k – R326 per month: 2.14 times more expensive but only 1.33 times faster than 384k
  • 4096k – R413 per month: 2.71 time more expensive but 10.66 times faster than 384k and 8 time faster than 512k

You are not getting the bang for your buck with the 512k deal.

Next you need to choose an ISP. I chose Web Africa as my ISP to start off with. They had a pay-as-you-go option (for R70 per gig at the time), no sign-up fees, roll-over, auto top-up, no contract to tie you in and I had heard good things. At the time this was a pretty good deal. I was happy with this for quite a while.

Then SEACOM came along (2009), ICASA had to allow more people into the market and we finally started to see potential competition.

I had used Web Africa for a couple of years so I had a good idea of what my monthly internet usage was like. This really helps when deciding if you need a capped or uncapped line. I really like the advice given on the AfriHost website about choosing which is best for you – it works really well if you know your usage.

AfriHost offered a R29 per gig deal with no long term contract. As I had no contract with Web Africa I could easily switch and try it out for one month and if I didn’t like it just go back to Web Africa. The Afrihost option works really well for me. My typical internet usage is 5 gig per month so on Web Africa thats a bit more than R300 per month for my data. On AfriHost I get that for R145 with a simple top-up option if I need more.

I would like to go to a 4096k line as a number of websites I use (mostly google services) have issues with the speed at times but then would probably like an uncapped line too which then increases the cost significantly. A capped account keeps my 384k option faster than it would be if I chose an uncapped 384k option – which I have considered but I can’t afford my connection to be any slower.

If I upgrade my speed I will probably still stick with a capped account for a while to see if the increased speed really changes what I do on the net and help me decide if I really need an uncapped account

About the Author

Mark Horner is the CEO of Siyavula Education, a social enterprise working in the school sector in South Africa. While working as the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow for Open and Collaborative Resources, Mark was able to transform the Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project, which he co-founded, into Siyavula Education. In this process, openly-licensed, collaboratively authored textbooks have been printed and distributed nationally in South Africa. Working at the intersection of community, openness and technology; Mark intends to leverage this success to make Siyavula an innovative, technology provider in education that works effectively as part of the education community to ensure better learning opportunities for all. A recent notable event being the delivery of Siyavula's textbooks over Mxit, the most popular mobile chat solution in South Africa. Mark has a PhD in physics from the University of Cape Town and conducted his research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California on the results from the STAR experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. His work is carried out in the belief that the liberation of information and support of education in South Africa will lead to a peaceful and prosperous future for all South Africans.