Imagine getting to road trip around South Africa, staying in luxurious hotels, testing the quality of the country’s mobile networks – and getting paid for it.
Sounds like a dream job, right? Well I’m here to tell you it’s no picnic.
Picnics involve making your own food, packing blankets and chairs, and usually fighting with bees for the right to your drink. This was so much better than a picnic.
Opportunity revs its engine
One of the best parts of working at MyBroadband is that there is always something interesting on the brew, a fresh challenge to tackle, a new frontier to explore.
Last year MyBroadband embarked on a project to conduct the biggest independent network testing project ever undertaken in South Africa.
A key aspect was a network quality survey of South Africa’s mobile network operators through controlled drive tests. These tests would not only be conducted in the country’s major metropolitan areas, but secondary cities, large towns, and main roads.
Samsung agreed to sponsor smartphones for us to do the tests on, while Afristay offered accommodation at any of the wide selection of places listed on its platform.
All MyBroadband needed was someone willing to drive up and down the streets of South Africa’s secondary cities, who is able to troubleshoot problems as they arise, and write up articles about the trips and high-level data. Back in the 90s we called them “road warriors.”
It was suddenly crystal clear – MyBroadband needed
Mad Max me.
One of the benefits of doing what I do (writing and coding) is that I can do it from anywhere with a reasonable Internet connection.
On rural roads between two towns connectivity was sometimes sparse, but in the cities themselves the LTE was usually rock solid.
In larger towns, which would take us between three and six hours to map completely, my wife would often take over the driving. This allowed me to continue to produce articles and work on web or coding projects from the back seat of our car.
When we were done surveying an area, we could retire to comfortable accommodations where we could continue working, and unwind with whatever facilities the places had on offer.
By morning we were refreshed, and usually woke up to a delicious breakfast. Rested, fed, and watered, we were ready for the next day of road tripping.
Of course, no road trip goes off without a hitch. Mercifully, we didn’t pick up any issues with our car during any of our travels. Not even so much as a flat tyre.
Car trouble in the middle of nowhere could have been a major setback, and of course you try to minimise that possibility by ensuring your car is recently serviced and purring like a kitten.
There were a handful of technical hitches, such as running out of airtime on one operator. However, thanks to constant monitoring of the integrity of the data we were collecting, any technical issue was identified and resolved quickly, allowing our drive tests to proceed without interruption.
The actual problems we picked up during our travels were frustrating (or even fun), rather than critical.
In eMalahleni, for example, we encountered the biggest, most poorly constructed speed bumps we had ever seen. While we didn’t collect data on the road condition, I would go out on a limb and say that the potholes per capita in Witbank is probably higher than anywhere else in the country.
Future drive tests there will definitely be conducted in a vehicle with higher ground clearance.
eMalahleni also gave us our first experience of a ghost suburb – a residential area that Google Maps has a full road layout for, but which doesn’t actually exist.
This turned out to be a problem all over the country, from Polokwane to Port Shepstone, where for whatever reason builders could not follow through on the plans they lodged with the Surveyor General.
We soon realised that we couldn’t be married to a route plan for mapping a city, and just adapted and moved onto the next suburb whenever we hit a ghost extension.
Traveling across South Africa for this project was a rare, amazing opportunity which not many people get to experience.
By the end of it, we had travelled through major cities in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, the North West, Free State, Northern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal, visiting beautiful parts of the country we would never have seen otherwise.
We also got to experience the fantastic hospitality of smaller towns such as Waterval Boven, Mtunzini, and Ramsgate.
It’s good work if you can get it – and no, you can’t have mine.