Uncapped vs capped ADSL

Uncapped ADSL has captured the mindshare of South Africans, largely thanks to MWEB’S non-stop promoting of its new packages and the price war among its rivals.

But, uncapped ADSL – especially in the forms it’s being sold to consumers is definitely not for everyone. As this column has pointed out previously, occasional web users who send a few e-mails and visit Facebook a few times a week will see no benefit from an uncapped service. And it’ll be more expensive.

To figure out how much bandwidth you’re likely to use, there are excellent calculators online (here is an example: MyBroadband bandwidth calculator). Also, if you’ve already got a standard capped service, you’ll no doubt have a fair idea of how much bandwidth you consume per month.

Afrihost offers a useful guide to help users decide whether to move from capped services. It is important to realise that this is predicated on a bandwidth cost of R29 per GB (unlike some of its competitors who are more expensive):

  1. For a 384 kbps line if you use less than about 7GB a month it makes sense to stay on capped.
  2. For a 512 kbps line if you use less than about 11GB a month it makes sense to stay on capped.
  3. For a 4096 kbps line if you use less than about 17GB a month it makes sense to stay on capped.

In terms of Telkom’s ADSL packages, where there are no uncapped products available yet, one would need to take into account the amount of local bandwidth bundled with each package.

Last week’s comparison of uncapped ADSL packages suggests that there is very little difference between internet service providers (ISPs). The ISPs who are using Internet Solutions (IS) as an upstream provider are essentially reselling what has become a commodity.

The differentiating factor is the quality of the services. Now, there are two main ways of looking at quality.

The first is subjective and relies on the quality of the ISP’s underlying network. In the case of the IS services, there is nothing separating them. Anecdotal feedback and tests suggest the MWEB service is robust and that the ISP spent a lot of money and time upgrading it before launching uncapped services.

The quality of the network is also dependent on the so-called “contention ratio”, set by the ISP. “Contention ratio” is a complicated way of saying “sharing”. It refers to the maximum number of people a user will have to share common infrastructure with. The lower the contention ratio, the better the service. Most ISPs offer something in the range of 20:1 to 50:1, but they may elect to change contention ratios during peak versus off-peak times.

The second way of measuring quality is the type of service provided, as well as the terms and conditions surrounding the package.

All of the current uncapped ADSL packages in the market aimed at consumers are shaped. What does shaping mean?

MWEB’s FAQ page says that shaping is “protocol prioritisation between different classes of traffic.”

Effectively, e-mail and web browsing traffic would be prioritised above all other types of traffic, and according to MWEB, “heavy download protocols such as torrents and news are not forbidden or specifically degraded, but when priority traffic demand increases it will be at the expense of non-priority traffic. The probability of this happening is at its greatest during peak times which depending on network conditions can extend to the 8am-8pm timeframe. During non-peak times the network will have an excess of capacity, therefore there will be no need to push back non-priority traffic and they should behave in an unshaped manner”.

Add to this the confusion among consumers about whether or not the uncapped products are “truly” uncapped. MWEB has said repeatedly that users are able to download as much as they want on their packages. Some of the other ISPs do throttle speeds when certain thresholds are reached. This especially affects 4mbps accounts as this is where the most usage is possible.

Afrihost’s current policy is simple:

  1. After you have moved 30GB you will be moved into a different category whereby certain ports will be shaped more aggressively. However, web and e-mail will still be prioritised.
  2. After moving a total of 60GB you will be moved into a different category where your line speed is throttled to 1024kbps per second and certain shaping protocols are in place
  3. After moving a total of 90GB then you will be moved into a category where you will be throttled to 512kbps. Certain shaping protocols will also be in place here.
  4. After moving a total of 120GB you will be moved into a category where your line will be throttled to 386kbps. Certain shaping protocols will also be in place here.
  5. After moving a total of 150GB you will be moved into a category where you are throttled to 128kbps.

The bottom line: it really comes down to what you want to use the internet for. If you’re looking to download a few hundred gigabytes of movies per month, the ISPs will penalise you (and continue to do so) because you’re affecting the experience for the other 99% of users who will probably only end up using 10-20GB.

And, if you want unshaped, uncapped ADSL with guaranteed quality of service, buy a business-grade 512kbps account (this comes in at about R999 per month including your ADSL line rental). I’m willing to bet you’ll have a much better experience on this package than on a 4mbps uncapped (shaped) consumer account which is the same price.

Uncapped versus capped ADSL << give your views

Related links

Uncapped must mean uncapped

Uncapped ADSL for R300

Hilton Tarrant contributes to “Broadband”, a column on Moneyweb covering the ICT sector in South Africa. An uncapped business (unshaped) solution will be way better than the services aimed at consumers. Pay the premium, get the service

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Uncapped vs capped ADSL