Written by Quintin Coetzee
In recent years, South Africa has undergone somewhat of an internet infrastructure transformation. From the perspective of residents, this has definitely been for the better.
Up to the point that a handful of local fiber infrastructure providers began laying out their networks across the country, South Africans (especially residential consumers) had to make do with using Telkom’s aging above-ground copper cables to connect to ADSL (or VDSL if you were lucky to have such a DSLAM in your area), or pay through the nose for wireless connectivity, such as 3G, using a dongle. Not an ideal situation by any measure, especially considering the rapid growth of online media consumption, shopping, and communication, that has by no means avoided South African uptake.
Major infrastructure providers
Fortunately, there are now a number of fiber providers installing an ever-expanding network of underground and aerial cables across the country. Some of the major infrastructure providers have been listed below, and you can click through to their websites to find out more information.
These companies compete (something that was not present under Telkom’s monopoly) to install fiber optic cable in suburbs across the country. Consumers (both business and residential) can then choose their preferred ISP to get data from, over the line. Unless your neighborhood association petitions a particular provider on behalf of residents, it’s generally not possible to choose the fiber infrastructure installer, although some areas do have access multiple. These companies choose areas based on perceived uptake, and by extension, profitability. This does not mean that only wealthy areas are getting cable, however, as volumes in areas with lower average household incomes also lead to revenue.
How to see if you have fiber in your area
You may already have fiber in your area, in which case you can skip to the section below about getting connected through an ISP. You can check the perimeter wall of your property for a small box that may be a fiber access point (pictured below), or ask your landlord or body corporate, if applicable.
Below are links to coverage maps or area lists for the respective major providers. You can use these to see if your area already has fiber, or is part of the imminent planned roll-out. It is best to check all providers, as it may be the case that only one is planning on coming to your area at this time.
If no providers have expressed their intention to install at your address, you can express your interest on their sites. Let others around you know they can do the same, and eventually, if the provider notes enough interest in the area, they may be motivated to come and install. Another option is using your neighborhood association to petition the providers on behalf of residents, for example, by arranging a sign-up day, or door-to-door visits, the outcome of which is then sent to the provider to show interest. There has been proven success of this method, with some areas organizing residents on social media to discuss fiber, and adding representatives from fiber providers so that the companies can see the interest.
The fiber provider will let residents know when they are planning on installing in the area. The process may involve residents not being able to drive vehicles in and out of their driveways during certain hours. This should be communicated by the providers beforehand. Providers are also legally obligated to replace any lifted paving, and it is a good idea to take pictures before installation begins. Remember, this may be a bit of a disruptive process, but it is worth it long-term. Fiber connections also increase property values in the eyes of prospective buyers and tenants.
Installation should not take more than a few hours (the time depends on the complexity, based on factors such as having to lift paving, and how long the fiber runs are). It is a good idea to have multiple people on site at the time, for safety, as gates may be open. Furthermore, it is advisable to ask the installers for identification before giving them access to the property.
The installers will connect fiber optic cable from the gray access point outside the property, run it through conduit, and link it to a CPE box inside the house, at a location of your choice. The CPE box can be seen below. The provider may charge for longer runs of cable, or more complicated installations, such as having to go into the attic to run cable, or replace paving.
Vumatel has created an installation process video, which you can watch here.
Getting fiber data from an ISP
If you have fiber access at your property, the next step is to choose an ISP and activate a data package. Recent ISP rankings (according to consumer satisfaction) can be seen below.
It is a good idea to visit the websites of each ISP, and compare speeds, prices, and package terms. Some ISPs, such as Afrihost, shape and throttle speeds on cheaper packages their network, depending on network congestion, and consumer usage statistics. There are providers, such as Cool Ideas, that don’t have such policies, which means you should get your max speeds (or close to max) all the time.
Links to the top 5 ISPs, as per the rankings above, can be found below.
Some fiber infrastructure providers also have sections on their websites where you can compare the prices of ISP data packages on their networks. So, if you already know who has installed infrastructure in your area, this may be an easy method to help with choosing an ISP.
Another helpful website for comparing fiber data providers can be found here.
As many providers offer month-to-month billing, whereby you can give notice and move to a new provider easily, it is inadvisable to sign a contract for a fixed period, such as 12 months. Some providers still offer these, but pricing can often be the same as month-to-month, and the benefit therefore is only on the provider’s side, by locking you into a billable contract.
It should be noted that some providers may offer free routers or waive installation fees, and it is a good idea to look out for these promotions. Some ISPs may require you to pay back the fees if you cancel your package within a certain window, and it is advisable to ask about this before signing up.
It should be possible for you to use your own router and do an installation over the phone, with an agent, if you wish to. Your router, or one you buy at the time of installation, may have better features and offer a greater degree of customization than the one provided by your chosen ISP.
Questions to ask
Below are some questions that are advisable to ask your chosen ISP before activating your account, if you can’t find the info on their website.
- Does this package have month-to-month billing?
- Are there any throttling or shaping policies for this package?
- How long will it take for the package to go live after installation?
- What is the notice period if I want to cancel, and are there any penalties?
- Do you have an online account management system?
- Do you require me to use your router, or can I use my own?
- What is the model number of the router you provide?
- Can I do a self-install over the phone, instead of having a representative come out to my house?
Other internet options if you can’t get fiber yet
If you are still waiting for fiber to come to your area, you have other options, such as signing up with the ISPs mentioned above for an ADSL package, using Telkom’s infrastructure. Some ISPs may offer bundles, where you pay them the Telkom line fee (instead of paying Telkom separately), which makes billing easier, sometimes comes with discounts, and means that the ISP manages line queries on your behalf, saving you from having to contact Telkom directly in the event of a problem.
You can also use a wireless dongle or wireless router, and a SIM card, that you can get from local cellular providers such as Rain, Vodacom, Cell C, MTN, and Telkom Mobile. While speeds in major cities are generally fast, this is an expensive method of getting connected.
Fear not, the fiber roll-out is continuously moving forward, and if you don’t have access to fiber yet, you may soon be able to connect. Until then, happy browsing!
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