How to pick the best ADSL package – a beginner’s guide

More South Africans are accessing the Internet each year, whether it be through fixed or mobile broadband packages.

A popular method for home Internet access is ADSL, which is a service from Telkom based on the company’s copper network – the line your home telephone is connected to – and is used by over 1 million South Africans.

If you are interested in getting an ADSL package, but are unsure as to what’s available, what a good price is, and whether you can access the service, the guide below offers pointers on how to get started.

How to pick the best ADSL package

Before you pick an ADSL package, you need to understand what makes up an ADSL service.

ADSL stands for asymmetric digital subscriber line – which means your download speeds and upload speeds are not the same.

On ADSL in SA, upload speeds are much slower than download speeds on standard packages.

A home ADSL service is made up of three components:

  1. The analogue (copper) line to your home
  2. ADSL access on the line
  3. An Internet account

Analogue line

Your analogue line is the physical copper line from Telkom, which is used for your home telephone.

You cannot access ADSL services without this line – which currently costs R189 per month. Telkom will also charge you an installation fee if you do not have a copper line.

Telkom’s website states that line installation will cost R620.

ADSL line access

The second component of ADSL is the “ADSL line”. This terms often confuses consumers as it is conflated with the analogue copper line.

The ADSL line is not a physical line, but the enabling of your copper line to receive ADSL services. It is sometimes called the ADSL circuit or ADSL access component.

This line access must be paid for in addition to the copper line, and the price is based on the line speed you select – with ADSL speeds ranging from 1Mbps to 40Mbps.

Telkom pricing below.

Line speed Price per month
2Mbps R165
4Mbps R299
10Mbps R425
20Mbps R499
40Mbps R599

1Mbps and 8Mbps options were also recently launched by Telkom Wholesale, but pricing has not been loaded onto Telkom’s product page.

Certain Internet service providers (ISPs) also offer ADSL line access as part of their product range – with Axxess selling 1Mbps and 8Mbps lines for R55 and R355 per month respectively.

ISPs offering ADSL lines will be explained in detail in the next section.

Not all ADSL line speeds are available in all areas. Depending on Telkom infrastructure, some areas can only access 2-4Mbps, while other areas can access 40Mbps speeds.

Check which speed you can access on Telkom’s website. (Note: 20Mbps and 40Mbps DSL lines are often referred to as VDSL.)

Internet account

An Internet account is provided by an ISP, and is the data allocation which can be used to browse websites, watch videos, and download files.

ISPs offer both uncapped and capped accounts – here’s what you need to ask when purchasing one.

Capped ADSL

Capped ADSL is straightforward. You purchase an account based on how much data you need, which can then be used on an ADSL line – regardless of its speed.

For example: a 100GB capped account from Afrihost costs R199 per month and can be used on any ADSL line.

Capped ADSL accounts also come in bundle options, in which the ISP deals with Telkom on your behalf when it comes to managing your ADSL line access.

The fee for the ADSL line is bundled into the account price, and may be cheaper than dealing with Telkom directly. Bundle accounts do not include the copper analogue line.

When choosing a capped package, you must take the following into account:

  • Price – shop around and see who has the best deals. Some packages are sold at promotional prices for limited periods.
  • Additional data  – some packages offer additional or unlimited data for use between 00:00 and 06:00. It is often called “after-hours” data.
  • Soft cap – some accounts come with a soft cap, which means than when your data limit is reached you are not cut off, but your service is slowed down.
  • Avoid contracts – look for month-to-month options, so you can cancel in 30 days if needs be.

Uncapped ADSL

Uncapped ADSL is a bit complicated compared to capped ADSL.

Uncapped ADSL packages offer “unlimited” data, and are sold according to line speed – example: 4Mbps Uncapped ADSL account from MWEB.

Your uncapped service will only allow downloads as fast as the package stipulates – regardless of your ADSL line speed. (Uncapped download speeds cannot exceed your maximum line speed, though.)

The data allotment is not absolutely uncapped, though, and ISPs apply “fair usage limits” to their accounts.

If you exceed the fair usage data limit during a month, the service is typically slowed down to much slower speeds – a fraction of the speed the account is capable of.

ISPs may also throttle (slow down the speed of your entire service) or shape (slow down the speed of certain activities: downloads, video streaming) your uncapped account, depending on how busy its network is.

When choosing an uncapped package, take the following into account:

  • Price – shop around for a good deal.
  • Fair usage limit – ask the ISP what the fair usage limit is for the account you want. The information is not always available online.
  • Shaping and throttling policy – as the ISP what its shaping and throttling policy is, and which services are given priority during busy periods on the network.
  • Unshaped period – some ISPs offer unshaped and unthrottled downloads at certain times of the day, typically between 00:00 – 06:00. Ask the ISP about this.

Mbps vs MB – the difference

You will notice that ADSL line speeds are ranked by Mbps, while data accounts are measured in GB. Mbps stands for megabit per second, while GB stands for gigabyte.

Using the standardised metric definitions, 1 megabit is equal to 125 kilobytes. 1,000 kilobytes make up a megabyte (MB), and 1,000 megabytes make up a gigabyte (GB).

Media files, such as videos, are measured in MB and GB.

This means that if you want to download at a rate of 1MB (megabyte) per second, you need an 8Mbps line.

Ask for advice and take a trial

MyBroadband hosts ADSL, VDSL, and DSL ISP forums, with company officials from South Africa’s top ISPs on hand to answer questions about their broadband products.

MyBroadband’s forum users also share advice and feedback on their experiences with various DSL products and ISPs – which you can use when choosing a broadband solution.

ISPs also offer trial accounts, which usually give you around 1GB for you to test their network.

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How to pick the best ADSL package – a beginner’s guide