This past week I’ve come to the momentous decision that I have to do something decisive about my Internet connection.
I have not been having a happy time of it since moving back to the ancestral homestead in Glenwood a year and a half ago. Soon after arriving, I became aware that the quality of my Internet connection was not as good as that which I had enjoyed in Overport.
The connection drops far too often and the download speeds I get are seldom over 2Kbps in spite of the fact that my modem confidently says it is connected at over 50kbps. My service provider now only deals with corporate clients and assures me that they have plenty of bandwidth to spare and that I should be getting more speed than is the case.
I have had Telkom engineers out so often that they can now find my place blindfold and I even have the phone number of a shadowy department which specialises in tracing Internet faults. In an early breakthrough, it was discovered that my modem was allergic to my local exchange because of the rectifier settings, whatever those might be.
After these were adjusted I certainly found it much easier to connect but there was no discernable speed difference and the connection still dropped quite often. So now I have to do something but the question is what.
One option seems to be to buy a non-US Robotics modem because they are the ones that seem to have a problem with the Congella exchange. Another option is to get a satellite connection which apparently speeds up the downloading process quite substantially.
The snag with this is that the connection itself is pretty expensive and you also have to pay for a phonecall while you’re online. The other option is to rent an ISDN digital line from Telkom which apparently pretty speedy and don’t give any of the problems that ordinary telephone lines do.
ISDN sounds quite viable in my case because it will cost only about R50 rand more than my existing two lines with the call charges being exactly the same. I had heard of ISDN but didn’t realise the full implications of getting it.
They apparently install some kind of box on your wall into which you can plug five devices like telephone handsets, fax machines, answering machines and your computer. The really cool part about it is that you can use any two of those devices at the same time.
It could be just the job if it does lead to higher download speeds but there’s no way of knowing until I get it. The other snag with ISDN is that the Telkom lady didn’t seem sure whether I could keep my existing telephone number or not.
Bitter experience in the past has shown that, when the Telkom lady isn’t sure, you’re probably not going to get what you want. I would hate to have to change my number again because you waste a lot of time telling people about the change and I figure that you can also lose business opportunities.
I have sometimes done deals with people years after a chance meeting and that’s work I’d have missed if they had forgotten the name of my firm and my number had changed in the interim. Hands up everyone who thinks that a recorded this-number-has-changed message that only last for six months is woefully inadequate.
I’m going to be following up on the various Internet options and will report back when I know more. Readers with any insight into the problem are welcome to contact me at the e-mail address quoted in my logo.
The good news is that we aren’t going to suffer with inadequate Internet connections for all that much longer. Check out http://www.teledesic.com for the details of a global satellite-based internet access service which is going to be on offer from about 2004.
Bill Gates owns a slice of the Teledesic pie which makes me pretty confident that not only will it get off the ground, but that it will be priced at a level that won’t beggar its users. Only time will tell, I suppose.
Many thanks to all the readers who responded to my column on the slow Internet connections I was experiencing.
I’ve had extensive correspondence with Don Black, in particular, and a long talk with the chaps from Telkom, and I have learnt more about modems than I ever expected to. Using modem diagnostics we were able to establish that my phone line wasn’t too bad and that my modem was operating more or less normally.
The thing is that it doesn’t do is connect at its highest possible speed and, therefore, it doesn’t achieve the data throughput that it should. I normally get less than 3 Kilobytes per second (KBps) whereas the modem should be capable of over 5KBps on a good day.
Courtesy of a reader I had the opportunity of testing a another modem which conformed both to the V90 standard, which my modem does, and the K56 Flex standard which my modem does not. This modem, a Duxbury, connected and gave me an average 4,5KBps download speed.
Something in my setup of computer, phone line and ISP doesn’t like the V90 standard and seems to prefer K56 Flex. Modems are not too expensive these days so I’ll be getting myself a Duxbury as soon as possible.
It’ll still mean chugging along on an Internet connection that doesn’t run much above 4,5 or 5KBps. The extra 1,5KBps will help enormously but it won’t go too far towards assuaging the insistent little voice which is telling me it needs far more speed than that.
A number of helpful readers have outlined the speedier Internet options which are available at present including ISDN, digital or analogue leased line and satellite. All the options are expensive and involve equipment and installation charges and higher monthly subscriptions.
Taking everything into account, it would seem that my cheapest way to go would be to get a satellite connection seeing as I already have the dish. There are currently satellite offerings available from InfoSat and Siyanda and you can get full details from http://www.infosat.co.za and http://www.siyanda.co.za.
In the last two weeks I have experienced the service offered by both companies and the speeds you get are quite an education. I found that busy sites are still slow but that I often got 10KBps download speeds and, in some cases, had three or four files downloading simultaneously at over 10KBps in each case.
That is still not to be compared with the speeds obtainable in the US or Canada but it is still blazingly quick for one who is only used to a modem. Take my advice and don’t fiddle with a satellite connection unless you are prepared to lay out the cash for it.
There is one drawback to the connections on offer and that is that you have to be connected by modem in order to use them. To establish any Internet connection you need a two-way path for data to flow and, unfortunately, there is no way of doing that via satellite in the current regulatory environment.
Telkom currently has a telecommunications monopoly which means that it is in a position to tell we can’t uplink via satellite to the Internet. This position will change in roughly two years when its monopoly goes away and the way is opened to competition.
I was assured by an InfoSat spokesman that it will expand its service to include uplinking as soon as it is able and that it will, in fact, be testing the technology later this year. Imagine having a permanent Internet connection without the associated telephone bills. Not too shabby.
It will mean that we’ll be more vulnerable to hackers but there is already a wide selection of security software available to keep us safe. Watch this space for more on satellite connectivity and a review in the nearish future.