How To Choose The Right Internet Provider & Package For Your Needs

Internet Service Providers are not in general very forthcoming about how to find the right internet provider or package. 

All they tell you is that you can get this and this speed and this is how much you will pay for it.

You can’t understand why this provider charges R1500 per month when you can get the internet for R299 from that provider.

All you know is that you want fast internet and you need so many Gigabytes per month.

But month after month you experience unreliable service, and at certain times of the day, you become frustrated because the connection slows down to a crawl.

And so I have put together a guide on all you need to know in order to make an informed decision about what internet provider and internet package is going to be best for you.

Types of internet connectivity

ADSL

Asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) uses a telephone line to send and receive internet data.

It is a good option for rural locations, but during high traffic times, you may experience congestion which means slow and unreliable internet connectivity. In addition, the cables are often stolen which means you can expect downtime more often.

However, you can’t be sure what kind of speeds to expect until the line number is installed, and you need to pay a line rental of about R200pm (in South Africa, this would be paid to Telkom over and above your data costs).

LTE

Long Term Evolution (LTE) is a path (the technology) to access 4G internet. You get fast speeds with this option, but unfortunately, coverage is limited and you will also experience slow times when the network is congested during peak times.

Wireless

Wireless Internet, or WiFi, gives you internet connectivity without wires. It is readily available in most areas in South Africa. However, WiFi has congested periods which may make your connection slow and unreliable depending on physical location.

Satellite 

If you are situated in a rural area, you won’t have many internet connection options, but Satellite internet is one, although it’s usually at double the price than most other methods. It means having 3 satellite dishes; one at the internet service providers hub, one in space and one on your property. 

In addition, you’ll also need a modem and cables running to and from the dish to your modem.

Satellite internet is better than dial-up, which is your alternative option, but is not recommended for gaming or VoIP services.

Bear in mind that weather (bad wind or rain) affects the connection.

Fibre

Fibre internet runs through fibre optic cables to your business location. After 5G, it’s the fastest internet connection currently available, but if there are no fibre cables to your area, that means there is no fibre internet available.

Fibre is superior to the other methods because it offers less signal loss than other connection methods, there’s no electromagnetic interference and provides faster speeds. 

In addition, fibre-optic cables are not susceptible to interference from weather, and they are not worth anything when stolen, so there won’t be downtime due to theft.

Unfortunately, fibre still comes at a premium cost in South Africa because the infrastructure still needs to be set up, and the expenses are quite high (cabling, work crew salaries, permits, digging and so on). 

Just like all the other methods though, although fibre is the way to go, speed is not always guaranteed, so it’s best to choose the right provider and package to avoid frustration, and we’ll get into that below.

What service providers won’t tell you

Many Internet Service Providers use advertising to hook you into subscribing, but they fail to disclose the details that would ensure you get what you need.

I suppose the problem lays with us consumers, because we want cheap prices, and most ISPs focus on this need, and then disappoint later. Truth be told; we can’t have cheap and reliable connectivity, so providers aim for cheap prices but then you as the user get unreliable connectivity.

Here’s what you need to know about those who advertise cheap connectivity:

  • ISPs advertise the “up to” speed, not the actual speed which is dependent on location and the amount of users using the same line as yours.
  • They don’t give guarantees, so their support is usually poor, and because they have many users, they throttle them during peak times. This impacts speed.

What impacts speed and reliability?

Here is what impacts connectivity:

  • Equipment quality – such as routers and computer processors – heavily impacts speed. Outdated systems can slow down your connection tremendously.
  • Water and metal, as well as physical objects between the router and devices, can also reduce internet speed. 
  • The tier of your provider (most ISPs are tier 2 or 3). A tier 1 provider supplies the network to other providers. A tier 1 company has better coverage. Tier 1 providers can often  guarantee operational uptime while the others cannot. Tier 2 and 3 companies rely on third parties while tier 1s do not, which makes them faster and more reliable.
  • Tier 1s are able to offer a QoS (Quality of Service) but not tier 2s and 3s as they are dependent on third parties.
  • Line speed and how many other people are using your line at the same time 
  • The network is shared between all the users in an area. Signal varies according to coverage in each area.
  • Package. Choose the right package for your needs. If you want reliability and speed, be prepared to pay extra.

How to choose the right internet provider and package

If you want speed and reliability, you need two things:

  • The right Internet Service Provider, and 
  • The right connectivity package

In order to achieve this, there’s some questions to ask:

Amount of users?

What are the amount of users needing connectivity at the same time? Here’s a good guide as to what speeds you’ll need for the amount of people using the same line:

10Mbps: this speed will be fine one to ten people using the internet connection at the same time, provided the contention rate is fairly low, or you will have fast internet until the line gets congested, at which point your connectivity will slow down. Look for an ISP that offers a low contention rate; about 1:3 or less is ideal.

20 – 50Mbps: good for up to 20 – 40 devices connected to the internet at the same time, provided the contention ratio is low; 1:3 or less is good. Anything higher will slow your speed during high traffic periods.

30 – 100 Mbps: good for 30 – 90 devices that need connectivity at the same time, but again, make sure the contention ratio is low; 1:3 or less is good.

100 – 1 000 Mbps: exceptionally fast speeds for enterprise-amounts of employees, for heavy internet usage at the same time, with a low contention ratio of 1:3 or less, or your fast speeds will be disappointing at peak times.

In essence, you want a high speed AND a low contention ratio. High speed won’t help you much if you don’t also have a low contention ratio.

Of course, the higher the speed and the lower the contention ratio means the higher the monthly bill amount, so if you are on a strict budget right now, here are some helpful tips:

  • For the way most people use the internet at home, streaming movies, loading websites, and consuming content, download speed is what matters.  
  • If you need to create content and distribute it, upload speed matters. 
  • If you want to back up your data offsite, upload speed matters a lot.  
  • On residential connections, upload speed is almost always throttled.  A lot. 20Mbps down, 2Mbps up is a common package. This is abbreviated sometimes as 20×2 or they will just advertise the download speed, causing further confusion.
  • Email and basic computer programs require a speed of 3-4 Mbps.
  • Skype group video calls will require 10+ Mbps.
  • Large file transfers will require about 40+ Mbps.

Area coverage

The very first step you’ll need to take is to find out what internet connection types are available in your area. Many areas still do not have fibre or 5G coverage. Most ISPs offer a coverage map to determine what’s available in your area.

Capped or uncapped?

Is uncapped or capped right for you? Capped is usually faster than uncapped because uncapped usually has more users to share the bandwidth with.

Contention ratio 

The most reliable connection is a low contention ratio, meaning you share the line with very few others. Most providers have a contention rate of 10:1 – 50:1, meaning you share the line with 10 – 50 other users. When you are all online, that’s when your connectivity slows down. Most providers do not make this information public. Instead, they advertise fast speeds but don’t disclaim how many users are sharing those fast speeds which then slow it down.

You want to look for an ISP that can offer a contention ratio of about 1:3.

Asynchronous or synchronised fibre?

All the methods of internet connectivity use asynchronous transmissions, excluding fibre, which provides a choice of asynchronous or synchronous transmission speeds.

Synchronised connectivity gives you a guarantee of speeds 24 hours a day, which makes your connection reliable and faster. Synchronised data means that upload and download speeds are the same. Asynchronous is more common because it’s cheaper, but is not reliable. It’s speeds differ for upload and download. 

This matters because download and upload speeds are needed for different things. 

So with that in mind, here’s how to see which is fine for your needs:

  • Download speed is important when you download things like videos, images and for listening to music on Spotify. 25 Mbps is a good download speed, as long as there are not many users on the internet at the same time.
  • Uploading videos to YouTube, sending emails, playing live tournament-style video games and video calling all require fast upload speeds. A speed of 3 Mbps is acceptable for this.

What can you do if you don’t have good coverage in your area?

In the case where your physical location doesn’t have much coverage and the network gets congested, resulting in a slow connection, what options do you have?

Buy a WiFi signal repeater

A signal repeater is a type of bi-directional amplifier used to extend the coverage area of your WiFi network to reach far corners of your home or business office, different floors, or even extend coverage to your yard.

Channel bonding 

Channel bonding means using multiple internet connections to double your internet connection speed. This can be done through the same provider using the same technology, or a different provider with a different technology.

This also may be useful as it acts as a backup – if one provider is down, you can still access the internet through the other.

What you would need is two internet connectivity packages from the same or different Internet Service Providers and a load balancing router which can be purchased at a once off price of about R1000.

Recap: critical elements to choosing the right Internet Service Provider & package

Here’s a quick checklist of what to look for in an internet service provider and internet connection package:

  • Choose the right speed for the amount of users for any given time
  • Make sure your location has the coverage you desire before you order the package
  • Look for low contention ratios
  • Do you need asynchronous or synchronised transmissions?
  • What support do you need? Do you need a QoS?

Need more help? Contact Remote Workforce Solutions for a free consultation about your best internet connection options in South Africa.



Author: Claire
Not just a writer, Claire specialises in increasing your website traffic and online sales through the use of smart, search engine optimised content that is targeted towards a certain audience. She specialises in compiling online content for SaaS, Telecoms, small business and marketing. Claire comes from a background in marketing and service operations analytics focusing on the customer experience.

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