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A general rule of thumb is that fixed-line internet connections are more reliable than wireless connectivity. But here in South Africa, fixed-line connections are anything but a certainty.
ADSL from Telkom isn’t a guarantee, owing to widespread copper theft. And even though Telkom and several other players are deploying fibre across the country, these are often restricted to wealthier suburbs.
So we’re glad to see LTE-A actually rolling out across the country, courtesy of wholesale provider Rain and Internet Solutions. As a result of the network, quite a few ISPs have hopped on the bandwagon and started offering near-identical LTE-A packages, being marketed as fixed-line replacements in some ways.
But can this LTE-A network indeed serve as a replacement for Telkom or fibre? Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before taking the plunge.
Is it actually available in my area?
It goes without saying but you’ll want to visit the ISP’s LTE-A coverage map to figure out whether you’re covered by Rain’s network.
Simply visit the desired ISP’s website and keep an eye out for their coverage map, entering your address. Fingers crossed.
How much data do I actually use?
If you use hundreds of gigs a month, you’ll be at the top-end of the currently available LTE-A packages and might not be happy with these options. Still, the top three packages are 120GB (R999 a month from MWEB/WebAfrica/Afrihost), 220GB (R1349 a month) and 330GB (R1599 a month), being pretty attractive for wireless connectivity, it would seem.
The 120GB option should suffice for 10 or more hours of Netflix a week, as well as one or two blockbuster game downloads (assuming that they’re each 40-50GB in size).
By comparison, Telkom’s monthly ADSL line rental (excluding phone line rental) costs anywhere from R165 to R599. Then you’ll need to throw data into the fray, with 150GB of capped data going for R145 a month from MWEB, for example, all the way to 800GB for R799. Then again, Telkom’s new uncapped prices as well as general fibre network prices are far cheaper than ADSL and very competitive with LTE-A packages.
If you’ve got a PS4 or Xbox One in the house, regularly stream video content or regularly download TV shows/movies, you’ll want the top three packages or fibre instead (if available). Those who stream Netflix and YouTube in HD will also want to consider the top-end packages.
But if you’re on the lowest Netflix tier (and generally stick to 360p or 480p for YouTube), then you should be good on the cheaper LTE-A options. Heck, if all you need is something for social media, app downloads and some YouTube/WhatsApp/Facebook videos now and again, the cheapest, 55GB package should be all you need.
Not sure how much data your video streaming uses? Netflix says low quality uses 0.3GB per hour, medium quality uses 0.7GB per hour and high quality uses 3GB an hour for HD (or 7GB an hour for 4K). Visit your Netflix account settings and adjust playback quality here.
Otherwise, local streaming service Showmax has a great bandwidth calculator for determining your usage.
If I do need to top up, how much will it cost?
Found the ideal package but worried about out-of-bundle costs? The various ISP offerings on Rain’s network all offer identical pricing for topups.
One gig of extra data costs R35 and 2GB costs R59. 3GB and 5GB topups cost R80 and R115 respectively. At the top-end, you’re looking at 10GB and 20GB for R205 and R345 a month respectively.
These topups last for 30 days from the time of purchase, it’s worth noting. Unused data from your base package (i.e. before topping up) doesn’t roll over though.
Is it good for gaming/Skype/WhatsApp calls?
Fibre is considered to be the best option for online gaming and gaming downloads in general. After all, there’s no radio interference and the last mile congestion isn’t nearly as big a factor, for starters. And then there’s the unparalleled ping/latency.
If you used LTE before and were happy with the result, then LTE-A should make for an even better gaming experience in theory, owing to the improved latency. As an example, we conducted three speed tests to different servers in London, getting consecutive pings of 196ms, 194ms and 196ms. By comparison, our work fibre line delivered 130ms, 140ms and 139ms.
It’s clear then that fibre is still better for online gamers in this regard, but LTE-A seems like a solid choice in any event. And the big question will be regarding the performance during peak hours, when many people are hammering their LTE-A routers in the evenings.
Gaming is also heavy on the data, owing to meaty updates and even bigger game downloads. It’s not uncommon to see the latest releases weighing in at 50GB. So unless you’re exclusively a console gamer on physical media (or prefer smaller indie games on PC), you’ll want as much data as you can afford.
Update: Rain’s marketing representatives told Memeburn that ISPs are currently selling double the data on their packages until November 2018. That means the 120GB package is 240GB, the 55GB package is 110GB and so on.