Connect to the internet with more insight

With South African consumers confronted with a variety of internet access options, Farren Roper, FNB Connect spokesperson takes a closer look at what people should take into account before deciding on an internet service provider (ISP)

August 16, 2010

With South African consumers confronted with a variety of internet access options, Farren Roper, FNB Connect spokesperson takes a closer look at what people should take into account before deciding on an internet service provider (ISP).

At its most basic, an ISP is a company that offers its customers access to the internet. This access can be provided through a fixed telephone line or through a wireless device such as a mobile phone or wireless router (a modem that allows several connections at one time).

Selecting an ISP is just one piece of the puzzle. You also need to consider such things as connection speed, whether you want a shaped or unshaped service and how much bandwidth you will use in a month. While it might sound like you need a computer science degree to understand this, it is actually easier than you think.

Connection speed is the speed at which your fixed or mobile connection accesses the internet. In South Africa, there are a variety of fixed line speeds (through your telephone line) to choose from. These are 384kbps (kilobits per second but do not worry too much about the technical bit), 512kbps, 4mbps (megabits per second) and soon to be 10mbps. The higher the number, the faster your connection speed will be (and the faster you will hit your bandwidth cap but more of that later).

The entry-level speed of 384kbps is fine for people who need email access, browse the web for information and connect to their friends or families on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. The next step up (512kbps) allows you to watch online videos (through sites like YouTube and Zoopy) faster and offers decent download speeds for music, photographs, and other content. It also offers good connectivity if you use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services (another acronym, but these services allow you to phone family and friends anywhere in the world using your internet connection). The 4mbps gives you great speed and 10mbps will give you the best available speed in South Africa at the moment. This is ideal if you or your family will use the internet for online gaming, to download large files, make video calls, and stream content that much faster.

As mentioned earlier, the faster your connection speed, the faster you will use bandwidth. This is where bandwidth capping comes into play. Some ISP’s allow you to buy bandwidth ‘per gig’, others give you fixed options such as 1 gig, 2 gig, 3 gig, and so on. Finally, there are ISP’s that offer unlimited internet access meaning you can download content and surf the web to your heart’s content. The amount of bandwidth you need is completely up to you but the average user should budget for approximately 3 gigs per month. Those who enjoy downloading content, watching online videos, and online gaming, need to budget for approximately 5 to 10 gigs per month.

When you reach your bandwidth cap, some ISPs will cut you off immediately (hard capping) whilst others will slow down your speed considerably (soft capping).

Fair usage policies are implemented to avoid a minority of people who download excessive amounts of content (think 30 gigs plus) thereby impacting the quality of the internet access for the ISP’s users. When selecting an ISP be wary of contracts with adverse expiry provisions or those with “acceptable use policies” which give the ISP the unilateral right to terminate your usage.

A final thing to bear in mind when it comes to internet access is selecting a shaped versus an unshaped service, as this will influence the speed and quality of your internet experience. Think of shaping as a way the ISP will prioritise internet traffic to you. Internet traffic consists of various protocols such as email, web browsing, downloading, online gaming and VoIP. In other words ISPs may favour ‘business protocols’ such as email and Web browsing during the day and limit the speed you can access ‘non-business protocols’ such as video streaming, online gaming and downloading large files.

Unshaped packages treat all these protocols the same and therefore provide you with the best possible performance for everything you do online. If you want to experience the internet, the way it is meant to be then an unshaped account is definitely the way to go although these accounts do come at a premium.

FNB Connect offers its customers the opportunity to buy unshaped bandwidth per gig. This allows our customers to pay for bandwidth as and when required without worrying about being capped. The prepaid offering, expires after 12 months means that our customers can budget appropriately for their bandwidth per month without needing to worry about paying for bandwidth they will not use.

Customers who sign up for ‘Connect Surf’ receive 1GB of ADSL bandwidth once off for FREE, which is valid for 12 months and all new and existing FNB Personal Cheque Account clients on the ‘Unlimited Pricing Option’ can now also receive up to 1gig of bandwidth for FREE EVERY MONTH*.

So research your internet access requirements, your available options and see which ISP offers the best fit to suit your specific needs and budget.