Full speed ahead for broadband express

Cell C has been slowly rolling out its broadband network across the country and last week it finally made it to Gauteng.

The Mail & Guardian got a chance to test the new network and early signs are that many of the earlier claims that Cell C made have been met.

Cell C may have committed the sin of calling their network a 4G network—technically this is inaccurate as it is an evolution of third-generation cellular technologies—but the speeds that users are getting on this network are well ahead of what consumers can get from either MTN’s or Vodacom’s broadband networks.

To use the broadband service consumers have the option of using either the low-end modem, which operates at 7.2Mbps (megabits per second), or the high-end one, which runs at the full speed of Cell C’s new network at 21.6Mbps.

The modem we tested was the black Huawei E1820, which offers the full speed of the network and comes bundled with 5GB of bandwidth for R300 a month on a 12 month contract. That works out at a paltry 6c a megabyte, making it the cheapest cellular data service on the market at the moment and competitively priced against even some fixed line data services.

Telkom’s Do Broadband 2 package includes 5GB of data and costs R250 a month but does not include the R130 you have to pay for your telephone line. Granted, Telkom gives you an additional 20GB of local bandwidth after you run out of your 5GB but if you are a real internet user then being cut off from international content is a fate worse than death.

The Telkom service also only offers line speeds of 384Kbps while Cell C’s service delivers real-world speeds that are significantly faster. Getting up and running is a relatively simple process which involves simply running the software pre-installed on the modem and then clicking “Connect”.

You do not, however, have to use the Cell C software. If you already have the Vodafone Mobile Connect software installed on your PC then that will connect to Cell C’s network without the need to make any changes.

You don’t even have to use the provided Cell C modem. If you want to share your connection with other users you can buy a WiFi-enabled 3G modem and put the Cell C sim card into that.

You just need to make sure that the modem is able to run on the 900MHz network that Cell C is using. Most of the other networks run their 3G networks on a different frequency.

Also, if you want the high-end speeds from your connection you need to make sure that your new modem is capable of connecting at the full 21.6Mbps. The speeds that you get from the network are pretty impressive.

It is extremely unlikely that you will ever see the full 21.6Mbps that the network is theoretically capable of providing but that should not deter you. Testing at a number of locations the fastest speed we saw was just over 9Mbps.

At the M&G offices in Rosebank the speed was in the region of 3Mbps, but we only had two bars of signal at the time and that is an impressive speed for a wireless service.

Anecdotal reports from other users back up these tests with similar speeds being reported in the other cities in which Cell C’s network is available. What remains to be seen is how well the network holds up under increased loads.

As more people start to use the network the real-world speeds that users experience should decrease as each cell tower has a limited capacity, and that has to be divided between all the users using that tower.

So, if you are sitting in the middle of Sandton on a Friday afternoon you are going to be sharing resources with the lunch crowd in Nelson Mandela Square. But if you log on at three in the morning you should have virtually uncontested access to the full capacity of the network.

Cell C should be planning its network rollout to ensure that there is significantly more capacity in hightraffic areas than in quiet areas but network planning is something of a dark art and the annals of the cellular industry are littered with the remains of operators that failed to plan properly.

So far Cell C’s conservative approach to rolling out its 3G network seems to be paying dividends. By slowly expanding the network city by city it appears to have ensured that the service is both stable and fast, something that will ensure users are happy.

Even though Cell C waited for what seemed like an eternity to offer broadband services, it seems to have been worth the wait.

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