The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Home Fibre Internet


Last update: 6 August 2019

Are you trying to choose the best home fibre internet in South Africa? We’ve put together this guide to help you learn the important jargon, and answer the biggest questions everyone has about fibre internet.


From fibre coverage maps, to wifi to throttling and fair usage policies, it’s all here.

1. Getting to know the landscape – The Difference Between Fibre Network Operators (FNO) and Internet Service Providers (ISP)

In the world of Fibre Internet there are Fibre Network Operators (FNOs) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

FNOs build and operate fibre network infrastructure and ISPs provide internet access services.

Normally companies do not build the fibre networks and sell internet access. They usually specialise in one or the other: infrastructure or services. There are some exceptions, notably Telkom and Cybersmart, but Open Access fibre networks like Octotel, Frogfoot and Vumatel do not sell internet. This is where ISPs come in.

In most cases, you buy your internet from an ISP. The ISP will arrange for your fibre line to be installed. They pay a fibre line fee on your behalf, deliver your WiFi router and are responsible for helping you get set up.

If you have a choice of more than one fibre network operator you definitely want to choose an Open Access network so you can choose from lots of different ISPs, or change ISPs after you have had your fibre installed. Having a choice gives you options and freedom to change between ISPs.

What about Fibre trenching? Will all FNO’s (network providers) be laying fibre lines in all areas?

The short answer is they shouldn’t. Open Access Fibre networks like Frogfoot, Octotel and Vumatel should, in theory, do not trench in the same area as they compete with each other on price and should be roughly similarly priced. On an Open Access network the consumer has the choice of many ISP’s who are also competing. However sometimes they do trench in the same areas so if you survived your garden being dug up a few times you are lucky enough to have the choice of more than one Open Fibre Network. With that said it is fairly common in dense urban areas to have an Open Fibre network along side Telkom’s Openserve.


2. Do Not Pass Go – Until You Check Your Fibre Coverage

Fibre internet runs through fibre optic cables to your home. No fibre cables to your area means no fibre internet.

I learned early on that not just any fibre provider will be available in your area. e.g. Octotel, DFA, Openserve etc. @ Andre

How do you check which fibre networks have coverage in your area? Best to check on the fibre network websites. As of time of writing there are over 30 fibre networks and here are the links for some of the bigger ones:

– Octotel – https://www.octotel.co.za/coverage-map/
– Vumatel – https://vumatel.co.za/coverage
– Openserve – http://openserve.co.za/open/fibre/
– Frogfoot – https://www.frogfootfibre.com/frogfoot/myaccount/home/frogfoot/coverage.jsp

There are usually four possible states to your fibre-ability: Live, Under-Construction, Planned and Not on the Map.

Live: You may be in a “Live” area in which case you are good to go, unless there is an exception. The most common exception is the fibre network not having permission to install in your building because your building managers are still using horse-drawn carts to get around. If this is the situation with your building, find out who manages the body corporate, start getting the other tenants and owners on board to install fibre. Motivate this upgrade with your body corporate. They need to sign a “Land Owners Consent” agreement with the fibre network operator.

Under-Construction: Perhaps you are not in a “Live” area then you could be in a zone where Fibre is “coming soon”. This is also referred to as “in-progress”. How much longer do you have to wait? A good rule of thumb is, if you see fibre network cars and vans in your road you’re probably in for another 2-3 months of waiting. Depending on what stage your area is in joining the relevant fibre network Facebook group is normally a good idea to get updates.

Planned: The fibre network will get around to laying fibre in this area in the near future. They may be waiting to get other areas live first, or getting permission from city council, or something else. When you start seeing the under construction areas go live, then start looking out for the fibre network trenching in your area.

Not on the map? What if you are in an area that’s not planned? All is not lost. Contact the fibre network with the closest live coverage and ask them to install. If you are in a housing estate or block of flats with over 150 units this will help your chances, but you’re still in for a wait unfortunately.


3. Which Fibre Network to Join?

If you are lucky enough to have a choice of fibre network operators you’ll find that there are a few variables that might influence your choice. What’s important to you?

As of the time of writing there are over 30 fibre networks. Join a fibre network of reasonable scale and choose one that’s been going for a long time.

These factors will influence the time to deliver service and how responsive they are to fixing problems.

Also look at price. Currently Openserve (Telkom) and Vumatel are more expensive than Frogfoot and Octotel, and so ISPs will have to charge more, or less, for connecting you to the network you choose.


4. How Fast Do You Need Your Fibre?

You want fibre and you’re in a live fibre area, what’s next? How fast do you need your fibre internet to be?

Megabytes and Gigabytes, Megabits or Gigabits. Wait, what? A useful starting point is getting to grips with the metric that are used in the biz.

There are 8 bits in a byte. e.g. 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) means you can theoretically download at 12 Megabytes per second. Get it? ?

When dealing with internet speeds the metric used is “Bits” usually measured in the millions (mega) or billions (giga) Bits per second. This is easily confused with Bytes, but divide Bytes by 8 to get the number of Bits.

Now that’s out of the way, when do mega mega download speeds help? As usual it is not cut and dry, so here are some activities that require a lot of bandwidth:

  • Downloading apps
  • Updating software and games
  • File transfer
  • Downloading/Uploading files; large documents, presentations, videos and audio
  • Video streaming
  • 4K video streaming (this deserves its own line item!)

Another important factor to download speeds is how many people are going to be connecting simultaneously and how important internet connectivity is to you.

A rule of thumb is to work to the lowest common denominator: With a decent router 6-8Mbps per person should cover most scenarios, unless you need 4K video streaming.

More people means more bandwidth. Got lots happening on your network? An HD movie streaming in the TV room, a teenager playing an online game, granny using VoIP to call a friend, and a few mobile phones Facebooking and YouTubing? There is no right answer here but more simultaneous users means you need more bandwidth (download speed).

Working from home? Uploading or emailing big files can take a while and if you’re working to a deadline, waiting can lead to unnecessary stress. Avoid delays and sluggish internet and consider a “symmetrical” line where your upload speed is the same as your download speed. For example if you want a 20Mbps service, skip the 20/5Mbps and get a 20/20Mbps service.

The easiest way to avoid remorse would be to choose an ISP that makes it easy to upgrade or downgrade your line speed.


5. What About The Costs Of Fibre?

There are three main costs that you will incur with fibre intenet:

  • Installation Fee – Once off
  • Router – Aim to upgrade every 3-4 years
  • Subscription Fee – Monthly

There is no denying that installation, a good router and your first month subscription is going to result in a pretty serious invoice, but it might not be worth getting locked into a 12 or 24 month contract. Here’s why:

Hardware: Look at the hardware you get as part of the deal. Is it any good, does it offer IPv6, can create a wifi mesh network?

Hidden fees: Cancellation fees can sneak in and you can get hit with the full installation and router bill, even close to the end of the contract period.

Subscription cost: Look at the cost per month over 12 or 24 months and then work out the relative cost per month compared to other ISP packages.

Speed and Budget: Decide how much you want to spend or how fast you want your internet. Compare pricing of all the ISPs available in your coverage area to get the best deal for you. We covered this earlier, but for those that jumped to this section, if you want to upload more (e.g. home office, photographers, videographers, etc) look at getting a higher upload speed line.

Flexibility: Go for an ISP that makes it easy to upgrade/downgrade. It’s normally more effective to upgrade than it is to downgrade, but if you are getting fibre freebies, you might not get as great of a deal if you start off with a slower speed.


6. The Elephant In The Room – Caps, Shaping, Fair Usage and Throttling

I’m not throttled, but I’m contended, so am I still competing with the other 1000 people on the line? My 10Mpbs is not the same as someone else’s 10Mbps? Andre

I signed up for an unshaped, un-throttled fibre line, but I still got my line speed downgraded halfway through the month when I used too much bandwidth. Dexter

Segway: The internet super highway.

How much you can download is like how far you can drive on a road, but that’s not very useful if it takes you 10 years to drive to the end of the road, is it? What would be better is a wide, fast Autobahn to get to where you need to go. This is kind of how the internet works. How much you download is how long your road is, and how much you can download at the same time is how wide the road is.

ISPs buy lanes of the highway, not length of road. Why is this important?

  • If you decide you need to move a heavy load and take a few extra lanes in the middle of the night when the roads are empty, this doesn’t impact anyone else.
  • Driving a tiny sports car super fast down a highway when the road is empty and getting off the highway leaves it free for other people.
  • The thing that hurts everyone is when someone decides to hog 4 lanes of the the highway in rush hour.

Nobody likes having to slow down unnecessarily and no one cares if you hog the highway when it doesn’t impact them. So why should you be limited if you were using bandwidth when it doesn’t affect anyone else?

This is where capping, shaping, throttling, fair usage policies come into play, and they don’t make a lot of sense.

  • Throttling/shaping clients means you are giving someone else priority. Going back to the highway – no one is a fan of the blue lights brigades, are they?
  • If your highway isn’t big enough to fit everyone on it, of course there are going to be problems when rush hour rolls into town.
  • Giving someone a shorter road (cap) isn’t necessarily going to stop them hogging the road during peak times. You could use your 100GB cap in 60 minutes and push the network bandwidth through the roof for that time, but it only really matters if that impacts other people.

What does this mean in practice?

Caps, throttling and shaping do not drive innovation.

Firstly, having enough bandwidth for your customers so they can all reasonably fit on the highway, is a good first step. To help reduce the impact during peak times there are many solutions, the simplest of which is scheduling bandwidth heavy tasks for off-peak times. Or if someone really needs to use a lot of bandwidth in peak times, unlike adding more lanes to a highway in the real world, simply selling more bandwidth to people who need more in peak times.

Wouldn’t it be great if the guy who needs to haul his extra long 3 lane wide truck through rush hour could just use their own road?

Myth busting: capped VS uncapped.

Don’t go with an uncapped lines, because if you go with the capped service the ISP wants you to burn through all your gigs and won’t throttle you.

The truth? This makes sense logically, but will having a capped service really give you higher priority than someone else? What about “premium” services or unshaped services? How would you decide if the capped person should get more priority than someone else?

It’s hard to say, and none of this will matter if the network is over-subscribed. Some of our friends have paid for premium un-throttled unshaped services, just to have their bandwidth reduced. Another example is no matter what package you end up buying, still not being able to stream at 7pm. The evidence suggests that this is counter-productive and capped products are probably only good at saving you money.

Shaping and messing with people’s internet is weird.


7. Choosing Home WiFi

A wise man once said, if you want a happy wifey, get good WiFi

Crummy routers irritate everyone and make your Fibre Internet seem much worse than it is. But it’s not difficult to get it right (assuming you are not tempted by some free ?).

The things to think about are:

  • Are you trying to use cheap or free hardware for your WiFi?
  • Do you need more than 1 router to cover the space?
  • How fast is your Fibre line speed?
  • How many devices will be on the WiFi?

Home router technology doesn’t move all that fast, but we think the WiFi choice you make should be a 3 year decision, so it’s worth spending a bit of time getting it to work.

7.1 – Are you trying to use cheap or free hardware?

Are using your old ADSL router, something else that’s really old, or something free that’s giving you problems? Just accept you should probably buy a new router.

Swiftly moving on…

7.2 – Covering large areas – do you need more than one WiFi Router?

Big homes or apartments with lots of concrete/steel in the walls will require more than one WiFi hotspot to cover an entire area. You have a couple of options:

  • Super powerful base stations that defy physics
  • WiFi range extenders
  • Mesh Networks

Super powerful: There are a lot of good WiFi routers that can cover a large area and some models are more powerful than most. Like the Netgear, Orbi or Tenda routers ability to ramp up the power. We think investing around R500-R1000 is a good budget to get a good WiFi router.

WiFi Range Extenders are difficult to set up, and if you set the extender WiFi name to the same as your main base station you can confuse your devices and you will lose internet connectivity while your phone or laptop decides which WiFi to connect to. WiFi extenders are relatively cheap when compared to MESH networks, but don’t get WiFi extenders – they suck in comparison.

Bring in Mesh networks. They are made up of more than one device and offer a very large network area and the ability to offer “seamless” handover from one device to the next. In practice this means you can walk through your house and your device will switch “nodes” (extender) without you even noticing. What’s more is the base stations create multiple connections between each other and automagically decide which is the fastest route through the network and if one node breaks there is a failsafe to route through the nodes that are still operational. Mesh networks start at around R3000.

What does this mean? If you need one router, invest in something decent. As mentioned earlier we think R500-1500 will get you something good. If you need a large WiFi area look into a Mesh network and if you can, connect the routers together with cables for the ultimate WiFi performance.

7.3 – How fast is your Fibre?

In a nutshell the faster Fibre line is, the faster you will need your WiFi network to be.

In the “half duplex” Wifi world you can’t have multiple things being communicated at the same time wirelessly.

The wifi radio can only speak one direction at a time, one message at a time. Everything has to wait its turn. Joe

In the table below are the speeds you might achieve in perfect conditions (read: in a lab, one direction at a time).

2.4Ghz (Standard) 
5Ghz (Dual Band)
802.11ac
1.73 Gbps
802.11n
216.7 Mbps
450 Mbps
802.11a
54 Mbps
802.11b
11 Mbps
802.11g
54 Mbps

But… you should expect to get only 1/3 of these speeds in the real world.

To make things simple a 2g router will cap out at 60Mbps, so if you have a faster fibre line you will want a router with dual band/5g.

7.4 – How many devices do you have on your network?

Most routers die with more than 10-20 devices. So imagine 5-10 people with a laptops and smartphones – bye bye WiFi ?.

You can use Ethernet cable where possible in devices that don’t need to be moved, like Desktop PC’s or Smart TV’s.

If you need more devices on your network, you’ll need decent high-speed connectivity.


7. What to look out for in a Fibre ISP

Reliability, sensible technology and the ability to get the speed you are paying for. Evan

Speed and quality of service:

We see a lot of people moaning about how the internet slows down at peak times, or they don’t get the full line speed on a speed test. When they ask the ISP they don’t tend to get a straight answer.

Ask around if people have had a good experience with the ISP (remember those FB groups you joined?)

Up front costs and cancellation costs:

You might want to avoid the cancellation clawbacks by paying for the installation and router. Your monthly should be a bit less too. Evan

If you go with an ISP that offers free installation or router, then you will save yourself about R2000. Octotel charge R1725 to install and a router will be about R300 and up. Keep in mind some ISPs charge you the full installation if you cancel with them, so you have to choose a good one otherwise you’ll be grumpy.
Look at the hardware they give you as part of the deal. Is it cheap hardware?

Technology

An easy place to start is to check if the ISP is using PPPoE or DHCP. PPPoE stands for Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet and is the slightly newer cousin (1999) of PPP legacy from dial-up modem days. PPPoE adds overhead and fragments packets because it lowers the maximum transmission unit (MTU).

It’s probably fine up to maybe 20Mbps but wouldn’t you want your ISP to use a protocol that can take you to 1Gbps and beyond speeds? Most of the high speed international fibre networks avoid PPP and use DHCP.


8. What now?

Well now you should know how to find out if you have fibre internet coverage, how to ask about and understand caps, fair use policies and throttling, how to get the most out of your wifi and how to avoid some common pitfalls.

Happy surfing!