This blog entry was originally posted on my personal blog at drupalgardens. For those who were wondering, I did eventually get internet working.
I moved house last month, to a home made of thatch and stone on a farm. As a lifelong child of suburbia, I never saw this coming. It’s been quite wonderful so far, with horses and zebra trying to get over my fence on a daily basis, and the kids and dog (We got a dog, too…) have never been happier. I can take a hike by stepping out of my front door, the skies are reasonably dark (although it would be nice if the weather wasn’t so cloudy), and we’ve got all the space in the world. It’s paradise.
Except that there is no telephone service. That means no copper lines, and that means no ADSL. Not even 56k modems. My existing wireless service provider (iBurst) does not cover areas so far from the city. Neither do NeoTel. VSAT is too slow and expensive, and suffers intolerably high latency. That left me with 3G and it’s descendants. I browsed the websites and coverage maps of the major cellular providers, chose my network, signed my contract, and now have an LTE-capable USB device, a Wi-Fi access-point/router which supports it, and a 12 month contract. All very nice, except for two problems:
First, only 2GB of traffic is permitted per month, after which I start paying per byte. And as any fool knows, mobile data is FAR too expensive to allow that to continue, so I’ve used the option to cap my expenditure, which means that when I hit my allocated usage, I vanish off the air. Just to keep things interesting, there is NO service to keep me informed as to how much I’ve used (Not quite true: All I have to do is power down my router, plug the dongle into a PC, install the crappy interface, ‘Connect to the Internet’, and wait for the little bar-graph to show me my remaining data allocation, shut it down, replace the dongle into the router, power it back up, wait for the network to come back to life. Which is really the same thing, to me, as not having any option at all)
Second, while I do have a respectable signal strength, it’s still only enough to connect on the 2G network, so that I’m usually getting a GPRS connection with occasional happy moments on EDGE. I can live with this, as actual speed is secondary to my requriements, but apparently even GPRS is too much for my local tower. At best, websites load slowly and incompletely. Twitter loads, but only partially. Google products seem okay, up until you try to do something requiring authentication, at which point everything hangs. Ditto for anything using OpenID. Facebook doesn’t open at all.
As it happens, the network I use for my phone has great signal, and full HSDPA coverage. I plugged it into the USB device and promptly racked up an accidental R700 phone bill while making a cup of tea (There is no data bundle on my phone – that’s why I have Wi-Fi). That particular network has an uncapped option for under R300 which is frankly perfect. You get 3GB “Fair Use” at full speed, after which you’re throttled down to 256kbps. It’s not broadband, but it seems like it might be reliable, and that’s what matters to me.
I have one other option, though: Some friends in the area know A Man, who sets up WUG’s and provides internet connectivity in that way. He sells you the antenna, receiver, and other assorted goodies, then routes you to the internet through his bank of ADSL modems (at a price, with healthy markup, of course). I’m assured by non-technical people that it’s the dog’s bollocks. But I’ve been waiting so long for him to install his repeaters that I already spent the money that was put aside to buy the needed equipment, so… It looks as if MTN will be getting more of my business soon.