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South African consumers have more options than ever before in the broadband market, with fierce competition between telecom providers rapidly driving prices down.
But it is not always simple to find the right offering for your needs among given different pricing models and package structures available from the various telecommunications companies.
The most fundamental choice a consumer must make is between a wireless broadband solution or an ADSL fixed-line solution, says Tim Walter, executive head of marketing at independent telecommunications service provider, Nashua Mobile.
ADSL offers a lower cost per megabyte, coupled with superior performance, when compared to most mobile broadband packages. But ADSL is not as widely available as mobile broadband and the price/performance gap between the technologies is closing rapidly, says Walter.
Walter says that consumers need to remember that the total cost of a broadband service may include an access fee, bandwidth and Internet service provider costs, and possibly a flat fee, lease or monthly payment for access equipment such as routers, data cards or an antenna.
Consumers that need a high-performance connection with plenty of bandwidth for the home or the office will probably find ADSL to be their best option if is available in their area. For example, you might be better off with an ADSL line if you plan to download a lot of media from the Internet, watch streaming video or play a lot of online games.
The true cost of an ADSL service includes the line rental fee (the access cost) as well as bandwidth costs. Some packages will include only the bandwidth costs - for example, you might pay the Internet service provider R299 for 5GB of bandwidth, and then you will still need to pay Telkom a line rental fee and buy a router of your own.
Other packages will include the bandwidth, a monthly payment for a router and line rental cost as an all-inclusive package. Nashua Mobile, for example, offers an uncapped and unshaped basic 384kbps service at R179 for data only or for R329 including the line rental cost. An uncapped, unshaped 1024kbps line costs R239 for data only and R499 for line rental and data, while the 4096kbps service costs R549 for data only and R919 for line rental and data.
Alternatively, customers that don't need a router and who are already paying the line rental fee directly to Telkom can buy packages from various ISP’s on a per gigabyte basis either on an ad-hoc or a per month basis.
Walter says that new cellular data technologies such as HSDPA mean that mobile broadband offers far better performance than it did in the past. It is a more attractive alternative to ADSL than it used to be.
In addition, prices have tumbled over the past year, with in-bundle data rates of less than 20 cents per megabyte now available from all four operators (Cell C, 8ta, Vodacom and MTN). There is no separate line rental fee to be taken into account with cellular offerings.
For some users, who want a decent Internet connection wherever they go, mobile broadband from one of the cellular operators might be a better option than ADSL. Users who simply do some web browsing and email will find the pricing and performance acceptable, Walter says.
Another benefit of a cellular connection is that it will be available as soon as the SIM card as activated, whereas it might take Telkom a few days or a couple of weeks to install an ADSL line, says Walter.
Walter says that whether you opt for a mobile or ADSL package, you should ensure that you understand what it will cost you in total each month. It is important to ensure that you will not be paying an exorbitant rate per megabyte for cellular data or per gig for ADSL data on your package if you need more bandwidth during the month.