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Users must shop around for connectivity

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Although South Africa’s communications infrastructure is flourishing, users have to search extensively to receive the best online connectivity services available, writes Paul Luff, country manager, SMC Networks. In truth, they are being forced to accept the “best of the worst” when it comes to domestic Internet service provision and support.
SA has a well-developed mobile communications infrastructure, specifically aimed at the GSM market. It lends itself to the 3G communications suite of products including Edge, 3G, HSGPA, 4G and other derivatives.
At the same time, fixed-line ADSL means of communications is notoriously unreliable, difficult to install with hidden costs around every corner. 3G is beginning to fill the gap. Globally, this technology is used as a backstop where no hotspots occur, or where there are no other forms of Internet access.
In South Africa 3G is fast becoming a replacement technology for fixed line. It is unlikely that this was the original intention, but it is the reality. Many home users are starting to use 3G as a primary means of communication. Businesses use this as a secondary means of emergency communication.
Whilst successful, the technology does pose a few problems to network operators. The explosion of devices (including laptops, fore-court, point of sale and cell phones) has impacted significantly on the backhaul part of the network. 3G devices are typically mobile and can cause problems. It is difficult for operators and service providers to manage change in load requirements.
For example, within a commercial environment and densely populated area, the network is heavily taxed during business hours. But from the late afternoon, these areas experience less traffic and the home network environment becomes congested.
It remains to be seen how service providers will make good on the promises they make to subscribers. For now, service is dismal and far from the desires and expectations of users.
The promises continue but it is unclear as to how, precisely, these operators intend to resolve these issues. This is indicative of deeper problems, usually to do with management. Of course, there is opportunity with adversity. These developments mean a far more open market and there is now room for the emergence of alternatives, such as iBurst.
Although this offering is obliged to face similar challenges in the market, it does have the resources and desire to assist customers. Consumers should not be surprised to see a service provider of this standing enter the voice market.
It is unlikely that these expanding operators will unseat the “giants” of industry, but they will impact on the complacency of these players. This can only benefit the consumers.
In order to secure the very best service, consumers must shop around. Deliverables must be realistic and selected service providers maintain promises. All too often consumers walk away from bad services after substantial capital outlay, only to reinvest in a whole lot of promises.
The consumer is ill-equipped to deal with “care less” service providers, so it is best to shop correctly the first time round and force the promises.
The reality is that service providers are managing and dealing with technology that has limitations. But if they invest the money and profits they make into making solutions more meaningful for the consumer and proactively organise the technology to bypass limitations, it will mean better service to consumers.
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