Choose the best broadband service for you

We know that fast internet is good. But how fast does yours really need to be? And how much data will you use? It depends on your needs. Here’s how to choose the best internet package for you.

Connection speed

Broadband refers to any kind of internet that is faster than the analogue modem speeds of the nineties. This is measured in megabits per second – its speed – and shouldn’t be confused with megabytes or gigabytes of data you get with your contract – that’s volume, like the size of a file on a computer. There are three main types of broadband available:

ADSL line

Of the mainstream internet solutions, ADSL is pretty well established by now, because it has been around for more than a decade. The speed of most ADSL connections will vary between 2 Mbps (entry level) and 20 Mbps (VDSL), making it one of the slower broadband solutions here.

ADSL prioritises downloads, and this means that upload speeds are generally far slower than downloads. Why? Requesting a web page (uploading) is a very simple step, but downloading the web page in your browser is far more data intensive. Anything from 4 Mbps is fine for web surfing and email, but bigger families with teenage gamers or people watching Netflix will need at least 10 Mbps.

ADSL works using traditional copper telephone cables either buried or hanging on poles, many of which were installed many decades ago. Service can be easily interrupted by broken or stolen cables, or by ageing infrastructure.

4G / LTE wireless

Long-term Evolution (LTE) uses the cellphone network, so it’s a wireless connection. The biggest advantage is you don’t rely on cables running to your house. LTE is offered by both internet companies and cellular providers. They will supply a SIM card to connect to the cellular network, and the bundle usually includes a special modem and antenna.

Mobile data is still far more expensive than fixed-line connections, of course, but the connection can be just as fast or faster than ADSL (more than 10 Mbps), and data is more affordable when bought in bulk as part of an LTE internet plan. However, LTE is not recommended for gamers, as this method is prone to ‘lag spikes’, which will negatively affect online gameplay.

Internet service providers advertise LTE-Advanced or LTE+ packages, which are just their terms for premium, faster versions of LTE packages.

Fibre-optic cable

Fibre refers to a broadband connection that uses fibre-optic cables made of glass strands instead of the traditional copper cables. It is, by far, the fastest of the internet solutions available to South African consumers. However, it is predominantly available in select upmarket suburbs in the bigger cities.

Roll-out is happening quickly, so keep an eye out for notices in your post box of fibre service becoming available in your area. Like ADSL, it is a physical connection using cables of bendable glass filaments but, unlike ADSL, it can reach speeds of more than 100 Mbps.

How much data to burn?

This varies very widely by the kind of internet activities you’re involved in. Here’s a very rough guide:

♦ Small household, two to three people, basic browsing and emailing:
50–100 GB per month

♦ Family set-up, smaller children, some media streaming and downloading:
100–200 GB per month

♦ Family set-up, older children, serious downloading, YouTube, Netflix and gaming:
300 GB per month

How to choose

Understanding the different internet connections doesn’t mean you’ll know what’s suitable for you. Here are some real-world scenarios matching various internet solutions:

Small household

BROADBAND SOLUTION: ADSL line, 10 Mbps speed, max 100 GB data per month If there are only one or two people in your household and none of you use the internet for media streaming or heavy downloading, ADSL is usually the way to go. ADSL packages are often cheaper and most readily available. If you live in a residential area, chances are that you already have a landline. You only need an ISP to connect the modem and activate the data service on the line.

Mobile or remote user

BROADBAND SOLUTION: LTE wireless, up to 10 Mbps speed, max 100 GB data per month. If you’re a mobile worker who travels often, LTE is the way to go. As long as you have the SIM card and compatible modem with you, you can use your internet package wherever there’s a signal. Also, if you live in a more remote area and don’t have a landline, this is the solution, because you can usually connect to a cell phone tower.

Household of power users

BROADBAND SOLUTION: Fibre optic line, 100 Mbps speed, max 300 GB data per month Fibre packages work for the seriously connected household with loads of PCs, phones, tablets and TVs all connected. Online games, streaming media and heavy downloading mean fibre packages offer the best value for money. If you’re lucky enough to have fibre in your area, what’s stopping you? And if you’re in an apartment or an estate, get your body corporate to move with the times, right?

VDSL is a newer and much faster form of ADSL, but uses the same cables. It is usually only available to those very close to a telephone switching station.

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