Broadband Internet and the fibre misunderstanding

By | 3rd May 2016

When DSL hit South Africa there was this feeling of us finally getting somewhere. Now we could download that patch, software, game etc. I remember downloading Half-Life 2 over a 64 kb/s leased line because it was faster than at home. There was a bit on consternation when Telkom said that they would be providing ADSL (or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines). This meant that you could download more than you upload. That’s what everyone wants right? Well maybe back in the early 2000s maybe, but what about hosting your own website/server/WebAPI. Now it is a resounding no. It is not what we want. What’s changed?

So the biggest thing that has changed in my life is the rise of cloud computing. It has impacted my life earlier or more because I spent some time at a Google for Work Partner company. I had a really great time and I had most of what I thought about ICT turned on its head. I now am backing up my photos to the cloud (and so are most of you, maybe without knowing it, please watch “Sex Tape” with Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel to understand a bit more about this). My flow of data is probably symmetric these days rather than leaning towards download. I recently went on a dive trip (ok, I lie, it was a year ago) and generated 100 GB of video, both above and below water, and photos. That is a lot of data going out. The video then goes onto Youtube, the photos to facebook or 500px. I don’t expect ADSL to change in South Africa. When I was is University my girlfriend was studying translation and was translating this awesome stop gap technology to sweat the copper assets while fibre gets deployed. This technology was ADSL and this was in 1998.

Now the other thing I have the advantage of knowing is that Internet Service Providers in South Africa have to buy symmetric bandwidth on STM64s and such. I also know that the bulk of this bandwidth is used for download which means there is about 90% free capacity on upload. If you don’t believe me then go to your IT department and ask to see your company stats. Most companies in SA do not have a strong cloud strategy so I would expect this to mirror the ISPs. Consumers and the general public tend to be slightly more progressive than the companies that they work for, this was shown in the BYOD craze in 2013.

So, this brings me to my point. I am now seeing many fibre providers jumping on FTTH and FTTB (fibre to the home: Vumatel, Fibrehoods, Telkom) and fibre to the building (Ignite, IS, Vox). It is great to see this growth. DSL needs to die. What is amusing is to see providers (who are buying symmetric bandwidth) providing fibre with the same splits as DSL? We don’t want that? Any provider who is supplying asymmetric fibre services does not understand cloud. My phone syncs all my photos from the day when I get home and we have had a few long weekends and several birthday parties so there has been a lot to upload. I have had the opportunity to test some broadband fibre services, albeit on the business broadband side and can say the three I tested gave good symmetric lines. Also if you get cloud then you are at an advantage because at the moment most people are still downloading so you have unrestricted upload.

At this point I would like to hand out some Kudos:

  • Internet Solutions (Good price, not great download, but on a 40 Mb/s broadband fibre we managed to upload at 38 Mb/s for three weeks solid for a Google migration)
  • Neotel (Pricing is ok, 10 Mb/s link good performance down, 9.2 Mb/s sustained upload during the business day – Google for work client)
  • Seacom (great price, great download, upload sustained 800 Mb/s to Irish migration servers – Google for work migration test on 1 Gb/s)

Here are some awards for dilligence:

  • Afrihost (good price, free usage 23:30 to 7:30 – schedule your uploads to the cloud for this time), these are my go to guys, I don’t have fibre in my area.
  • If you’re on AlwaysOn at a fibre connected location you get symmetric bandwidth, If not then you’re on DSL and its asymmetric again.

So, based on the criteria I have set up above, you can evaluate how I view the listed providers here: SP List

All I am asking for is for ISPs to allow us to use that currently wasted upload bandwidth that they are paying for. Let us use the cloud.