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Data prices is an issue bubbling beneath the surface of South African politics and culture.
As more South Africans use social media and other data-reliant technologies, the price of those crucial megabytes have come under the spotlight. And especially so in 2017.
President Jacob Zuma acknowledged these issues at the State of the Nation Address in January, while citizens have also made their feelings known through campaigns like #SocialMediaBlackOut and #DataMustFall.
But even with these efforts, data remains a luxury for many. And this is where this article begins in earnest.
As a Vodacom customer I got fairly sick of paying R2 per MB out of bundle rates. Searching for a possible alternative, I came across Afrihost.
The ISP, better known for its fixed line and fibre products, offers a Mobile Data plan through MTN’s network.
Naturally, as a fairly heavy data user, I gave it a go. After all, what’s the worse that could happen?
Admin and setup
I signed up for the 2GB per month service for R99 in early August, but didn’t quite receive 2GB. Instead, Afrihost charges pro rata, so 1.6GB was mine for around three weeks.
Signing up for the service is simple enough.
There are a few steps, but instructions are clear and the Afrihost website itself is easily navigable.
The “Month-to-Month Mobile Data” section via the “Mobile & Wireless” top menu allows users to compare the various data options. You can then sign up for and purchase the package from there.
Users can sign up for Afrihost’s mobile data package if they have an MTN SIM, or can request an Afrihost SIM for a ludicrous R149
It’s a step-by-step process — from picking your package to selecting your SIM option. And you’ll need your mobile number if you do in fact have an MTN SIM ready. You’ll also need your credit or debit card handy, and a username/password combo for your Afrihost account setup.
If you don’t have an MTN SIM, you can also purchase an “Afrihost” branded SIM. The latter slaps a R149 SIM delivery fee onto the price, which is completely daft considering SIMs retail for less than a Wonderbar nowadays.
Once the SIM is activated and Afrihost logs your number to its network, the ISP will “provision” your number for the Afrihost VPN service. This will take between two and 72 hours depending on network condition.
Finally, the company will mail you with your APN details, which you input into your device’s network settings.
TL;DR: browsing the various packages, purchasing the one you want, and setting up the device is easy and simple enough.
Coverage and reliability
So, how is the service?
Between Cape Town’s deep southern suburbs, Cape Flats and central areas, service is spotty. It is to be expected though. This while using the SIM in a Huawei mobile WiFi router.
On my daily commute, I can generally find 4G connections for much of my travels. However, closer to the Plumstead/Ottery area, cell signal has always been less than ideal.
I often defaulted to 2G speeds in other areas like Pinelands too, but in Cape Town central 4G isn’t difficult to find.
Running a speedtest in De Waterkant, downloads and uploads maxed out between 10Mbps to 16Mbps. That’s more than adequate for daily smartphone usage (my home ADSL line is lucky to get close to 4Mbps down).
In Johannesburg, at least between OR Tambo International in Kempton Park and Sandton’s CBD, you shouldn’t have any issues finding 4G service.
Again, this isn’t quite Afrihost’s problem and rather an issue with MTN’s coverage across the country. But it would be wise to double check the reception coverage through your commute route or around your home address before purchasing any LTE package.
TL;DR: if your area is well served by MTN — think the city centres of South Africa — you shouldn’t have an issue with connection speed, but confirm this on the coverage map first before getting out any credit cards.
The price-to-usage ratio was my biggest concern.
I initially thought 2GB would be more than enough. It would restrict my daily usage to a few Google Play Music tracks, a short YouTube video or two, and perhaps the odd Instagram browse (Insta is a savage).
I paid for the package on 4 August, so I received 1.6GB of data pro-rata for R79. Not a bad deal at all. That is until Afrihost claimed I used all 1.6GB (pro-rata data) in a little over two weeks.
Visiting the Clientzone, the app noted that I still had around 620MB available (this issue is better detailed in the next section).
Once the issue was resolved, my phone quickly scoffed down the remaining data within the next week, and I was forced to upgrade to 3GB. It’s what I get for forgetting that I was using my mobile data and not WiFi.
Notably, upgrading can be done at any time during the month, and you will be awarded pro rata data immediately. For me, that was around 700MB after upgrading at the end of August.
So yes, Afrihost’s system is much, much cheaper than paying for bundles. In fact, 3GB is R149. On Vodacom, R149 only gets you 1GB.
You’re still inclined to monitor your usage though.
TL;DR: if you listen to music, watch videos on YouTube and Netflix, browse Instagram or video call loved ones fairly often, 2GB will be enough, but you’ll need to monitor and throttle your usage acutely.
Overall, the Afrihost package per gig is cheaper than the likes of MTN, Vodacom and Cell C, regardless of bundle size.
We’ve seen MTN and Vodacom given a lot of grief by its customers in recent months, but how is Afrihost to deal with daily?
My first impression: excellent.
The company is always open to help users on Twitter, a medium I often use to converse with the likes of Telkom and Vodacom.
A few months ago, I asked the company on Twitter about the data products and the processes. They replied within 10 minutes with an answer. Brilliant.
Moreover, the company’s actual client monitoring products aren’t half bad either. Although the website could benefit from more power user tools, it boasts large buttons, an easy to read graph, and a number of well placed menu items.
Afrihost’s customer care is excellent, even if issues with the service itself did arise
There’s also an Android app which is lightweight, swift and designed similarly to the website itself. Design consistency is appreciated.
Users can also ask the company to send emails when data consumption reaches specific points, from 50% to 100% used. There’s also an option for 95%.
I did however run into an issue at the end of August.
After upgrading my package to 3GB, I was unable to use the remaining data on my account over the weekend. Although the app suggested I still had around 600MB available, my connection was terminated.
I contacted the company on Twitter with my issue, and within five hours on the next working day the issue was resolved. It took slightly longer than desired, but I haven’t had a similar issue since.
TL;DR: I’ve had my issues with the company’s service, but I haven’t yet encountered a problem it couldn’t fix within a few hours. That is, if it didn’t occur over the weekend.
Afrihost’s mobile data package does feature a few hoops to navigate before you’re actually connected. Moreover, you’ll need a secondary SIM (if you’re not on MTN), a smartphone that can house two SIM cards, or a mobile WiFi router.
If you only have a smartphone with a single slot, you’ll be forced to use the Afrihost or MTN SIM card, and that is ultimately the biggest issue here. Do you want to be part of MTN’s network exclusively? Do you prefer another network’s voice options?
For some, investing in Afrihost is a larger investment than simply purchasing a data package. But on value alone, compared to its telecom rivals, I can’t fault the company.
Personally, paying in excess of R100 for less than 1GB of data per month didn’t make sense, especially since I spend less than six hours per day at most outside a WiFi hotspot. In that case, Afrihost’s package makes sense for my use case.
Finally, there’s the question of coverage. If you commute to an area of Cape Town that isn’t covered by MTN’s network, this package is entirely pointless. LTE coverage should improve as the years roll by, but it remains an issue here and now.
TL;DR: If you’re sick of paying exorbitant amounts of money to stay connected, Afrihost might be a possible solution. But bear in mind my coverage issues, in addition to the setup and devices you’ll need to make it work.