Background: Until early 2008 many residents had Telkom lines, and even ADSL in Muldersdrift. Unprecedented cable theft has led to the disappearance of Telkom from the area, though, and we need alternate solutions, particularly for data.

We have approached dozens of potential suppliers for communication services in our area, and have spent weeks working with those suppliers who expressed interest in providing these services.

As per our May update, our options are:

For data (internet access):

  • Cellphone technology (GPRS/GSM/EDGE/3G). This is expensive except for very low volume users. Except for 3G, it is also slow. In our area, currently 3G is unstable, and is only available from Vodacom. Many of us would also prefer not to support Vodacom, due to their close ties with Telkom.
  • Wireless (WiFi) technology. This is an always on connection, which is priced more competitively that 3G for any meaningful data volumes. It requires line of sight with a tower or a neighbouring user, which should not be a problem to achieve with enough users in the area on board. More info on such service providers below.

For voice:

  • Cellphones. This is available to all of us, but is expensive for users who make a lot of calls, and these networks are also congested lately.
  • Voice over IP (VOIP). This uses a data connection to provide you with voice services. Incoming and outgoing calls are possible, and rates are typically slightly cheaper that Telkom rates. With most providers, calls between users on the same network are free, which means it makes sense for us all to use the same service provider if possible. This is available in different hardware configurations, including software on a computer (speakers and microphone required, no other hardware), VOIP (SIP) phones (desktop or cordless) that look like conventional fixed line phones and require no computer, and gateways that allow you to connect a switchboard to a VOIP service. More info on such service providers below.
  • Skype. Free Skype to Skype calls over a data connection. This is typically done with Skype software on a computer, but phone instruments that can handle Skype calls without needing a computer are also available. Calls from Skype to conventional fixed line or mobile phones are possible (using SkypeOut). To international numbers this is dirt cheap, and to SA numbers rates are similar to Telkom rates. Incoming calls from a phone to Skype (using SkypeIn) is not yet possible in SA though.

For data, if 3G is inadequate or too expensive for your needs, we have spoken to a couple of possible WiFi providers. There are still things outstanding from all them, so we can’t make final recommendations yet. You are welcome to speak to them in the mean time, though. These service providers are:

  • EmBurst is a small private company, also known as EmCom. They have a WiFi network up and running, and are expanding their infrastructure to cover more of the area. We have 3 pilot sites operational on their infrastructure at the moment. While they are happy with us using Skype over their network, they are not keen on us using VOIP over their data network, though. They have a separate offering instead, which uses a dedicated data connection for voice traffic - see EmTalk below for more details. Contact Nick on 083-427-1740 or info@emcom.za.net for more information.
  • Vlocity Solutions also have a presence in the area already. They have restrictions on what you are allowed to do on their network. This is an option if they fulfill your needs and you can’t get service from the other suppliers though. The contact person is Wayne on 083-326-1909 or wayne@vlocity.co.za.

These data services are dependent on line of sight to the supplier’s towers or another user, so availability of these services may vary per individual.

For voice, the available services all require a data connection. This may be a 3G connection, a WiFi connection, or iBurst if applicable. Many of the data suppliers claim that you need to run voice over a separate connection to avoid contention with data. Our tests over connections used for data too have been fairly successful, but not without problems. There are times when the data networks get too busy to handle voice properly. Your success rates may vary depending on the connection you are using, the number of voice users and calls you make and receive, and the other activity on your network. There are many different VOIP providers out there. The ones we have identified as suitable candidates are:

  • Skype is already available to anyone with a data connection. Skype to Skype calls are possible, as well as Skype to phone calls. Incoming calls from a phone are not possible on a South African number yet, though. To use this, just download the software from www.skype.com and register.
  • Telfree appear to be one of the largest and best consumer VOIP providers around. They provide you with an 087 number, allowing incoming and outgoing calls, using a soft phone (software on your PC) or dedicated VOIP phones. We have tested their service extensively, and apart from occasional problems which we believe are network related, their service has worked well over 3G and EmBurst’s networks. This offering is marketed and supported by MK Solutions and Zenith Telecommunications Specialists. They hsave given is a proposal with all the relevant details, which is available here.
  • EmTalk is EmCom’s voice offering. It runs over a separate data link, and requires additional hardware. One unique feature of this offering is that they provide you with an 011 phone number. Their proposal is here. Contact Nick (details above) for details on availability and costs.

We will make additional information available as we receive it. For further information on any of these services, including specific coverage information at your address, please contact the suppliers directly.