THE LONG ANTICIPATED public launch of Neotel’s consumer services has finally happened, and in its quest to take on the existing broadband players it seems to be thinking differently. The notable part of Neotel’s offerings is that they aren’t easily comparable to other services on the market: they’re integrated voice and data products and the only offering remotely similar in terms of product specifications and form factor is iBurst.
For those clients who need both a home phone and an Internet connection and want an alternative to Telkom, Neotel is delivering. Its initial product set runs on Neotel’s CDMA wireless network, which is theoretically capable of 2,4Mbps. However, Neotel is clearly playing it safe by telling potential clients its service will typically deliver between 300Kbps and 700Kbps. It’s not even calling the service "broadband" – referring to it as high-speed Internet access, leaving the door open for its future WiMax offering.
It’s also offered services at prices currently substantially lower per GB than anything else on the market. Those include an unlimited option for R999, something that bandwidth junkies are likely to put to good use. It remains to be seen how Neotel will react should its high-end users begin materially impacting the quality of service to its other users.
The Neotel offering is a wireless service, but Neotel has made a point that it isn’t a mobile solution. It’s portable – but that portability is limited to the city in which you live. That’s because your Neotel phone – which is also the modem for its service – is issued with a geographic number (011 for the Johannesburg area) and trying to use it in Cape Town would probably create havoc with the network. However, its voice quality is excellent and in preliminary testing – even with the wireless signal on one bar – there was no degradation of quality.
At the same time Neotel has launched a service billed as a basic Internet and telephony service that offers either a 2GB bandwidth limit or an unlimited service – where the user can use as much bandwidth as he likes.
However, Neotel has the upper hand over its competitors, as it’s in the middle of a massive network rollout and has the capital on hand to ramp up its services very quickly. It’s also running its own core network, linking all the base stations together, while everyone else (apart from Telkom) has had to buy their network infrastructure from Telkom.
Neotel’s insistence on 24-month contracts and a limited range of handsets are most likely its biggest drawbacks. Otherwise, its initial offering seems worthy.