As the fibre to the home (FTTH) market explodes in the South African market, consumers are faced with a flood of Internet Service Provider (ISP) options, writes Calvin Collett, CEO of iConnect Telecoms.
Choosing the right one is increasingly difficult. There can be upwards of thirty-five ISPs on a fibre network, all vying for business and offering seemingly the same thing. Often, consumers don’t know what they need, or which services will best meet their requirements, and the onslaught of offers from competing ISPs can prove very daunting.
Many ISPs also try to entice customers with tempting ‘value adds’ such as mobile phones, tablets and trial periods at no cost for services such as Netflix. Consumers often base their choice on such offers, scrolling past more suitable services to meet their needs simply due to a lure of the ‘honey trap’. While these items may seem like irresistible value, are they enough to base a decision on? And are these ISPs really all the same? If not, what else should be considered?

Beyond the ‘honey traps’
Sure, that tablet would be fantastic to have and who doesn’t love a free gadget? One needs to consider though, whether or not offers like these really are value adds. Chances are strong that the customer usually ends up paying for the device in monthly instalments, ‘hidden’ in their service bill.
So-called “free” trial periods for value added services such as Netflix may also seem great, however, many people don’t consider what happens after their trial period ends. If the customer didn’t have Netflix (as an example) and wanted it anyway, and they enjoy the ISP services they are paying for, then it may make sense. Often, however, customers find themselves tied into a 24-month service contract that they may decide they don’t want, but now need to start paying after the trial period ends, on top of their normal ISP bill.
On top of this is the actual service that the customer receives. Once a customer is tied into a service contract, it’s almost impossible to wrangle free – and no one wants the only good thing about their ISP service to be the value added item that came with it, right? It’s vital that potential customers understand the terms and conditions of any value added item or service so that they know what they are signing up for going in.

Sales pitch or real value?
When it comes to selecting the right ISP, there are a few key things to keep in mind. Firstly, customers should look beyond the sales pitch and free offers to the actual services on offer. Customers should try to obtain several quotes from a mix of ISPs, gathering advice from them and asking a number of key questions so that they ensure they get what they need at the best quality and value.
Things to take into consideration are the line speeds (how fast the service is), data caps (whether they want capped or uncapped), fair usage policies, contention ratios (how many other users a customer will share their line with, impacting performance – lower is better), and what customer support is on offer. A good gauge of customer support as well as ISP performance is to chat to friends and colleagues about the service provider they use and how happy or unhappy they are with it. This helps to rule out those with unsavoury reputations or unsatisfactory service.
Potential customers should also look at what is included with the service. The right value adds such as an included voice service are brilliant as they eliminate the need for a separate voice line, saving the customer money. Invariably, too, an ISP who offers voice will typically have a good pedigree and a reliable and well-supported network, given the high quality demanded by voice services.
Another key consideration is the type of contract. ISPs who are comfortable offering month to month contracts tend to offer better service. A month to month contract not only gives a consumer peace of mind that they are not locked in to a contract should they no longer need or want the service, however, the ISP is also pressured to provide a service that is good enough to ensure customer retention. It’s a win-win for all parties.
Before customers reach for the first ISP contract that offers free electronics and several other, equally gimmicky add-ons, it is important to do a little research. It may take a little longer, but at least the customer will be assured of a decent service which meets their requirement and may even save money elsewhere.