Recently an htxt.africa reader contacted us inquiring about internet connectivity.
An odd request given that we aren’t a network operator but we tried our best to help them out.
While this seemed like a simple request we quickly learned that the person was in an area with no LTE coverage and no fixed line connectivity.
At this point many folks would give up, but not us.
There is a lesser known technology in South Africa known as last-mile wireless and I have been using it for the last two years.
As you might suspect from the name – last mile wireless allows for a high-speed wireless connection. This is made possible with a high-speed connection at a high-site (similar to a cellular base station but a lot more advanced) and a satellite dish at your home.
The result is an ADSL-esque internet experience.
Sadly, like any internet connection there are some problems that go hand-in-hand with last mile wireless connections.
The biggest problem relates to line of sight (LOS).
Think of your wireless connection to the high-site as if it were a huge tin can telephone only the string is invisible and and the tin cans are satellites.
Should anything get between the signal, you and the high-site your connection will be spotty, intermittent or even worse it won’t work at all.
It’s worth noting that this interference can come from something as small (or rather tall) as a tree. For that reason many last-mile wireless service providers put receivers high up so that they’re above the treeline.
Startup costs are high
Something that might push many folks away from signing up for last mile wireless is the initial startup costs and the monthly cost associated with data.
To get connected you’ll need to buy compatible equipment from the service provider you’ve chosen. This cost varies from service provider to service provider so it’s best to shop around for the best deal.
Many service providers will allow you to add the cost of the equipment to your monthly bill provided you sign a 12 or 24 month contract with them.
It’s also worth noting that the monthly cost of an uncapped connection is considerably higher than it is on a fixed line. To augment that service providers often pair data connections with contention ratios.
This means that the point of connection will be shared by a few other people which means that during peak hours you might notice slower speeds. The lower the contention ratio the higher the price but you get a more stable internet connection.
I have been using a last-mile wireless connection since late 2015. The area in which I live has no fixed line connectivity and there is no sign that fibre connectivity will be arriving any time soon.
As such I rely heavily on my wireless connection for gaming, streaming and work.
Aside from a LOS issue that appeared recently the service has been excellent and once we had moved our satellite to a clearer LOS the stability and high-speeds we enjoyed before returned.
As for the cost I’m lucky in that I share the connection with three other people who all contribute to the costs so I pay as much as I would for an ADSL line.
So if you have no fixed-line connectivity and no LTE coverage, consider a last-mile wireless connection.
As for what I use my connection for – everything. The reasonable ping means I can play games online (Dota 2, Hearthstone, The Division, Diablo 3), stream movies at Full HD and even do both at the same time if the mood strikes me. It really is a wonderful technology.
I’ve taken the liberty of including a few service providers that offer last-mile wireless below. If you know of any others let us know so we can add them to our list.
Last mile wireless service providers in South Africa
***Disclaimer: The author is on the Wirulink network but this piece was not sponsored nor commissioned by the service provider***
[Main Image – CC BY 2.0 Chris Potter]