iBursting with frustration

By Warwick Ashford, ITWeb London correspondent
Johannesburg, 22 Apr 2005

Many South Africans are hungry for new technologies and this is particularly true for high-speed broadband access to the Internet.

It was hardly surprising that when Wireless Business Solutions (WBS) brought the iBurst mobile broadband solution to market in December last year, it was greeted with much enthusiasm.

Many were excited by the prospect of having access to fast, effective and mobile broadband Internet at last. WBS promised SA would "stand as an international pioneer of mobile broadband" in being one of the first countries in the world to implement the solution.

Particularly exciting was the mobile option designed to give users Internet connectivity at any time, anywhere, even while on the move.

Little wonder that WBS attracted users in the wake of a slew of bad publicity around Telkom ADSL and Sentech services.

Only a few months later, however, a spate of disconnections of the iBurst service has resulted in a flood of complaints from disgruntled users.

Just like hundreds of Telkom and Sentech customers before them, iBurst subscribers have begun hitting frustration point with the recently introduced 3GB cap.

WBS has been suspending services this week to iBurst customers who were deemed to have exceeded the new cap, resulting in many crying foul. Advertising by iBurst led them to believe anyone exceeding the cap would be throttled back to 64Kbps download speed, but no one said anything about cutting people off, they say.

In the Telkom tradition of claiming that its ADSL offering was not for "bandwidth hogs", WBS has slated users for their "inordinate consumption of bandwidth" and being "irresponsible", claiming some had found a way around the 64Kbps throttling mechanism.

With the latest round of complaints, many feel the time has come to get real about broadband Internet access in SA. What is the real reason we are unable to join millions of other Internet users around the globe who enjoy high-speed Internet access?

In the case of Telkom`s ADSL, Sentech`s MyWireless and WBS`s iBurst, is it simply a question of misleading advertising or are they shifting the blame on users to hide the fact that neither were able to cope with the technical realities of providing a proper service?

Why imply in adverts that anyone exceeding the 3GB cap will be throttled back to 64Kbps and then summarily cut off the first hundred or so users to do so? Is this bad public relations or technical incompetence? If the throttling mechanism were working properly, how could users possibly be guilty of abuse?

Misleading advertising?

How is it possible that Internet users in places like the UK have unlimited, "always on", uncapped, fast access for as little as lb20 a month and we have to pay much more for much less?

= Access woes

If only it were simply the fault of misleading advertising. That is relatively easy to understand and fix. Local cellular network operators were quickly forced to reconsider their advertising when initial campaigns for the BlackBerry service were criticised for glossing over the fact that employers have to make significant hardware and software investments before employers can connect and synchronise with corporate e-mail using their BlackBerry devices.

Telkom and WBS have also typically sought refuge from criticism of their services in carefully worded technical arguments. However, no matter how many times the supposed technical constraints are explained, the question remains: how is it possible that Internet users in places like the UK have unlimited, "always on", uncapped, fast access for as little as lb20 a month and we have to pay much more for much less?

Live streaming video and gaming without crippling latency are a reality for UK users, not a pipedream. Finite capacity is an unknown concept among all the UK users I have encountered.

Am I alone in thinking that the only plausible reasons for being forced to endure such unsatisfactory Internet access are along the lines of either inordinate incompetence or excessive greed on the part of the so-called service providers?

Many iBurst users passing the limit were told this week that if they wanted more bandwidth, they would have to buy more. Is it just me, or does this smack of extortion?

Personally, I have decided to avoid going through the stress of bursting with frustration and simply wait until the powers that be are forced to do away with monopolies and other forms of market protection and consumer exploitation that have been allowed to shackle technology in this country for far too long.

With apologies to Rosseau, it seems technology is created free, yet in SA it is forever in chains.

I have put my faith in the Soccer World Cup due in SA in 2010. Genuine broadband access will have to be in place by then. Otherwise we will be the laughing stock of the world, and I can`t believe those who have the power to liberate technology would dare risk that.