The advent of truly affordable satellite broadband services has made a big difference to the South African Internet landscape. For those in rural areas who previously battled with slow dial-up cellular connections, it's made the true wealth of the internet available for the first time. For those in urban areas who've battled heavy congestion as well as service outages due to cable theft, satellite is an essential back-up - and in some cases a replacement.
As the number of satellite providers grows, it's important that consumers know what questions to ask so that they get the most appropriate service.
Here are the five things you need to ask before choosing your satellite broadband provider:
- What is their track record? As with any technical service, providing broadband satellite connectivity is not simple; there's a learning curve involved and everyone will make mistakes in the beginning. Ask how long they've been in the business and how many successful installations they've completed. Also don't forget to check their after-sales service record. If something goes wrong, how quickly can they promise to fix it?
- What is their national footprint? If you're considering satellite Internet because there simply isn't a decent alternative, the chances are that you're not near a major city. In that case, it's important to check what installers and service technicians are permanently based close by. If you're on a farm near Queenstown or Kimberley or Polokwane, how soon can they get to you if lightning strikes your modem during the rainy season - a few hours? A day or two? A week?
- What value will you get for your money? Price is important, but it's not the only consideration. If the package you're being offered looks like fantastic value compared to the competition, ask about the "contention ratio". This refers to how many people have to share the same connection - the more people, the slower the service you will get. That's how ISPs are able to offer cheap uncapped Internet: they increase the contention ratio so that many people are sharing the same bandwidth. It's profitable for the ISP, but unless you don't mind idling in traffic jams you might want to seek out a less contended service.
- What other services can they provide? Once you have a broadband Internet connection, you can use it for a lot more than just
- How flexible are their contracts? Needs change and it's almost certain that whatever package you choose, you will want to make some adjustments within a few months. Maybe you're using more bandwidth than you ever thought possible and you need to upgrade; maybe you overestimated your needs and want to downgrade. In either case, you don't want to be locked in to a long-term contract that doesn't offer the flexibility you need. Check how your service provider will handle these changes before you commit.
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