Somebody who isn’t Telkom

By this time you will probably have heard from my colleagues in the daily media that we finally have a competitor to Telkom up and running in parts of Durban.

A group us of went along to the launch just over a week ago where the details of Neotel’s NeoConnect package were revealed to us. The company is offering a voice and Internet connection service via a Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) cellular wireless network.
CDMA is quite similar in concept to the cellphone networks we had already and the data side of the service conforms to the Evolution-Data Optimised (EVDO) standard.

When you sign up for NeoConnect, you get a box containing a biggish phone with an aerial, a USB cord to connect your computer to the phone, and a disc of software to load onto the computer.
Once set up, and the process looks very easy, you can dial any phone in the world, send and receive SMS messages, and connect to the Internet at a theoretical speed of 2Mbps but which will, more likely, turn out to be between 300 and 700Kbps per second.

I had a chance to make a test voice call and it was as clear as crystal, as promised, while the Internet connection looked pretty speedy. A YouTube video played perfectly without the stuttering and starting I experience using Telkom’s service.

The phone can be plugged-into the mains but it does have a battery and, because its wireless, it can be used anywhere in Neotel’s coverage area. It has to be said that the area of coverage is not yet that great but there are gangs digging furiously all over town to extend the network.

If you’re one of the lucky ones and you live in the coverage area, you can order the service online from Neotel’s site at or walk into any PostNet in those areas, and get the kit from them.

You can’t get a voice-only service at the moment so the monthly costs include Internet and range from R399 per month, including the phone and 2,5Gb of data traffic, to R999 per month including unlimited Internet access. The cost of extra Internet bandwidth is eight cents per megabyte if you use more than your monthly allocation.

Some packages include free talk minutes but, even on the basic package, you’re paying fractionally less than Telkom rates for calls to Telkom phones and mobiles. It sounds unlikely, I know, but apparently true that you pay less to phone a Telkom phone from the Neotel network, than you would from a Telkom phone.
The speakers at the launch stressed that the company was paying as much attention to service as it was to pricing, which I found this to be true when I phoned the customer service line. I was quite amazed to be put through to a human being almost immediately and get the information I wanted in only two minutes.

Time will hopefully cure the problem of limited coverage but, even if I lived in a coverage zone, there are a couple of negatives I can see. These include the fact that you can’t talk and surf the Internet at the same time, as with ADSL, and there’s no provision at. present for using a fax machine on the network

I was a little disappointed after calculations showed that I would only save a couple of rand on my monthly phone and Internet bill by switching to Neotel, but I wasn’t too surprised. I’m guessing that they didn’t want to start a price war but at least they are a tad cheaper and, most importantly, are somebody who isn’t Telkom.

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