Having access to the Internet is essential in business these days and there are many competing services out there.

Types of Internet Connection

Dial-up accounts are not that common these days but are still available and allow users to connect their computers to the Internet with a modem and a normal telephone or ISDN line. The connection speeds that can be achieved are extremely slow, making them unsuitable for most purposes.

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) accounts allow high-speed connections over existing copper telephone lines, providing that the user is relatively close to an exchange with the right equipment. ADSL does have the benefit that it will allow users to make voice calls while they are connected to the Internet. This option would be suitable for most small to medium-sized offices.

The main problem with ADSL is that it requires a telephone line to work and is therefore not at all portable. There are a number of technologies available which will allow users to connect to the Internet wirelessly. The most widely used of these allow users to connect via the mobile telephone networks but it is also possible to connect via radio link in a limited number of areas through services such as those of iBurst and Neotel.

Connecting via ADSL

South Africa’s telecommunications sector was historically highly monopolistic and, although this has relaxed, Telkom still owns the telephone system and ADSL infrastructure. This has implications for users because they have to pay line rental to Telkom and for bandwidth to Telkom or another ISP.

This relegates other ISPs to the position where they only resell bandwidth they buy from Telkom and several other sources. It is true that a number of ISPs do offer bandwidth cheaper than Telkom does but it does open up the problem, when you have one company supplying the infrastructure and another the bandwidth, that they’ll blame each other when things go wrong.

For a number of years, I paid Telkom’s line and ADSL rental and bought bandwidth on a pay-as-you-go basis from whichever ISP had the best offer at that moment. I was comfortable with this because I had the expertise to reconfigure my router whenever I bought bandwidth from another supplier. In the end, I gave it up and decided to source my bandwidth from Telkom as well.

My first choice at the moment for an ADSL provider for business use would be Telkom. If tempted to get my bandwidth from another ISP, I would ensure that it is was one of the big ones with a track record like Mweb, Axxess or Web Africa.

Connecting on the Go

The cost of using mobile Internet connections in South Africa was prohibitively high for many years, relegating their use to those who really needed the mobility, or to the very well-heeled.

Quite recently, a few of the cellular providers have launched high-speed mobile data packages at very reasonable prices. The first to slash their prices was Cell C and, at the time of writing, Telkom’s 8.ta service had followed suit.

Individuals and small businesses may be able to survive very well using mobile broadband alone, if they mostly operate in areas where reception on the mobile phone networks is good. The download speeds offered by the services are generally pretty good and the modems are usually easy to install and use.

Many mobile devices are able to accept network SIM cards directly but, for those which do not, there are other options including tethering the device to an Internet-capable smartphone or plugging in a USB modem. A final very useful means of connecting while on the go is through a  MiFi-like device. These gadgets accept SIM cards and create a portable wireless hotspot through which its users can connect any WiFi-capable laptop, phone or tablet to the Internet.