iBurst Initial Impressions

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on Thursday, 25 January 2007
in Digital Blogs
I`ve been an iBurst subscriber for just long enough to have formed some initial impressions on the service, from my perspective as a medium Internet user.  I have found that it requires a certain degree of courage and diplomacy to step out and state opinions of any kind regarding Internet offerings on the wild web. 

Kindly bear in mind that these are my personal experiences and if you totally disagree, you are free to let me know, if not particularly likely to influence my opinions.    Please read on for my thoughts.

iBurst is one of the handful of broadband technologies available in South Africa.  Service is delivered over a wireless system and primary competitors are Sentech`s MyWireless offering and the mobile networks` 3G products.  It can also be considered as an alternative to aDSL, but that depends on your specific requirements.  Speeds are quoted as up to 1Mb/s (megabit per second).  More on both of those topics later.

I signed up in November, having previously used dialup and then aDSL.  Part of the purchasing process involves an onsite signal test - I was fortunate enough to get a strong, stable signal at home (line of sight to Cape Town CBD).  Fundamental to the iBurst connection is the desktop UTD, which serves as the device which connects to the network.  There is a laptop equivalent available, which enables greater mobility within covered areas.  The UTD is a small grey box with friendly LED`s on the front and a  small antenna and connectors on the back.

One snag is that this device costs R2,800 to purchase outright, but this entitles you to month-to-month service.  The other option is to sign up for a 24-month contract, but I`m wary of contracts (I have neither the time nor the patience to read the fine print).  Also, I`m in the fortunate position to have an employer who is willing to pay for the connection on my behalf.

I signed up for the 6 gig package, which costs R900 per month.  The contract will cost one hundred South African ront extra.  This package entitles you to utilise up to 6 gigabytes worth of traffic, at which point your connection is throttled to a lowly 64Kb/s.  However, this beats getting disconnected entirely.  You are free to continue to use the service at the throttled rate, within iBurst management`s acceptable usage policy.  The details of this policy are not exactly clear, but judging by all the online rants by disgruntled, disconnected users, it does not grant you free access to unlimited traffic.  The pricing is not directly competitive with aDSL, but the phone lines in my area are more effective as bird perches than communications channels.

There are two options for connecting to the UTD - via a USB cable or Ethernet.  The setup is fairly straightforward, but if you aren`t technically savvy, it might help to either pay for the installation or get a kind techy to help you out.  After connecting the box up to my PC, I was online within minutes.  The only snag I hit was the fact that I ommited part of my login name when attempting to connect - the iBurst helpdesk were able to assist me this fairly promptly.

Initially, the UTD was connected to a Windows 2000 machine, with Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) providing access to my small home LAN.  This was mainly to get familiar with hooking everything up - shortly after I set aside a dedicated machine, on which I installed Smoothwall Express firewall, for a more secure setup.  It was straightforward to get Smoothwall talking to iBurst, despite some rather dodgy hardware, including an odd network / SCSI card combo from a de-commissioned server.

On to the service itself.  It has proved to be stable - since signing up, I have only been affected by two short outages.  The first was caused by a misbehaving authentication server and the second due to the CBD tower being unavailable.  In the latter case, my UTD swung across to the distant Goodwood tower, but the signal was very poor.

Speeds vary - performance is generally better at night than during the day.  I primarilly use my connection for remote system administration via VPN, surfing the web, light downloads and chatting online.  Download speeds range from 10KB/s to 110KB/s, but average out at an acceptable 45KB/s (KB/s = kilobytes per second).

Due to the diverse routes that Internet traffic tends to take in and out of South Africa, online speed tests can be erratic, but here are some of my results.  The local Telkom test averages out at about 600Kb/s.  International tests average 200Kb/s (Kb/s = kilobits per second, bits make bytes).  It is sweet when you get a download zipping through at 100KB/s, but its not a very frequent occurence.

Another snag is latency - this is the amount of time it takes a packet of information to perform a round trip between yourself and a remote Internet host.  iBurst`s latency is very erratic and not well suited to realtime applications, such as VoIP or online gaming (average 200ms local, 300-600ms international).  Whilst I have used Skype and other VoIP applications over the connection, quality has generally not been great.

Also, the billing system used does not seem to be the most efficient, but thats not altogether uncommon either.  For now, the service suits my needs, but it isn`t right for everybody.  If you plan on doing massive downloading, lots of online gaming or VoIP chatting, aDSL is a better bet.  But for everybody else, there is no harm in looking at iBurst, provided you get decent coverage in your area.

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