By Tonderai Rutsito
DURING the past three weeks I have dwelt on issues relating to Internet connectivity in the country.
I have focused on the companies responsible for providing such connectivity as well as technology that is available to facilitate such connectivity.
One such technology is the Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line technology, commonly referred to as ADSL.
This in my view is one of the most interesting technologies we have here in Zimbabwe.
This technology only runs on existing telephone lines and as such only our fixed telephone operator, TelOne, can offer this service.
In this regard I caught up with TelOne’s marketing director, Mr Isheunesu Mugadza, to give us an insight into this technology and TelOne’s role in the provision of Internet services in the country.
Tonderai Rutsito (TR): How do you classify your company, is it an Internet Service Provider or an Internet Access Provider, and do you have your own infrastructure?
Isheunesu Mugadza (IM): We operate as both, you may want to look at TelOne as an IAP, but ComOne is our ISP, we run our own network we don’t lease from anyone.
We have two links — the Mozambique and a back-up via South Africa.
TR: In brief what is Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology?
IM: It is simply a technology of accessing the Internet via our standard phone lines.
TR: When did you introduce ADSL?
IM: It was first rolled out around May and June last year, that’s about a year ago.
TR: What type of a solution is ADSL, is it best for home, work, small or large enterprise?
IM: Definitely for both home and small to medium enterprises, although the word small is quite relative.
It is suitable for not more than 20 users, we provide other packages for such circumstances though.
TR: Currently, what’s your subscriber base?
IM: We have activated more than 8 600 users so far.
TR: Which areas are able to access this service?
IM: We have Mutare, Rusape, Marondera, Gweru and Harare, which we call our phase one.
Our phase two includes Kwekwe, Redcliff, Kadoma Chegutu, Chitungwiza and Norton.
We are following our transmitting backbone from Mutare to Bulawayo then Victoria Falls and we are covering all the settlements along the route.
TR: But this is a fibre route not a fixed phone line?
IM: Of course, we run ADSL on copper within local areas but the fibre will be the major backbone for transmission across the country.
TR: So how is it that we have had fixed lines that run across the length and breath of Zimbabwe for years yet the ADSL technology use is not as widespread?
IM: Basically, there is additional equipment that is set up in the exchange room, it is called the DISLAM, and we have extra customer premises equipment that we add on the customer side.
It is just a small ADSL splitter, to split the data and voice traffic, then we have a modem to connect the computers. This can be either wired or wireless, it costs less than US$40 depending on the package you select.
Unfortunately, I cannot take you to the exchange but that’s where we have extra equipment set up for the specific areas, without this the area does not have ADSL.
TR: ADSL is relatively old technology in other parts of the world where it has been in use for sometime now. What took you years to introduce it and why is it at peak now when our neighbour South Africa got introduced about 11 years ago?
IM: Well, for us here in Zimbabwe it was a different issue, it costs money, to set up this equipment in each and every exchange area we have and it costs to set up the DISLAM exchange room.
TR: How much are we talking about?
IM: Unfortunately, I am not privy to such information
TR: Most residential areas in Harare especially the high-density suburbs are still not yet connected to the ADSL but you are already focusing on phase two that covers areas outside Harare, how do you explain this move?
IM: Well, obviously there is an economic side to it.
We had to first look at areas with a good turnover, then eventually making this a national project.
TR: We noted that your 256 kilobytes per second package at US$30 is quite affordable.
How do you justify the speed gaps which skyrocket and turn to double up across the speed packages?
Are these not too expensive especially compared to other players when we take into account that you are charging US$215 for unlimited download?
IM: Yes, our charges doubles up as we also increase our speed.
This is the best package, remember this also comes with increased download caps.
Our competitors do not guarantee you this fast speed on most wireless networks, it’s really worth it.
TR: Currently, some ISPs in Zimbabwe are selling speeds that are on paper only because they know they won’t guarantee such speeds in practice.
How can your customers actually know or prove they will get this speed and how do you allocate this speed? Is it not likely to be shared?
IM: Our speeds are out there for you to prove, a client can use any software to test, for example the DU meter.
If they feel they are not happy with speed they are getting they can come to us our support guys for assistance. We allocate the exact speed from our exchange rooms.
TR: Still on that issue, most of your users on the 256kbps package have been complaining that it used to be very good but is now very slow?
IM: Where did you get those complaints? We have received no such complaints ourselves.
TR: Online blogs and crowd-sourcing users are the ones saying the package has deteriorated and becoming unusable and are you also not sharing the bandwidth?
IM: 256kps is reliable and viable, I am actually using the same package here in my office.
Let’s test the speed from my computer and see if it’s really that bad. (We then took time to test connectivity and basic web apps, it was honestly good enough, both pings, local and international websites responded in five seconds.
(We did not manage to prove whether it was 256kbps for sure but Mr Mugadza assured me that it was.)
TR: That speed was impressive but how can you explain the market outcry on the same package?
IM: Like any other service provider we may have challenges of cable breakages here and there and our traffic will have to be re-routed, I am sure you know about that cable break we once had.
TR: Yes, but that was a different case, that took you completely offline, what is really causing the slow connectivity?
IM: Of course, it was different but Internet connectivity will face challenges at times.
As for your case I cannot answer because you saw how fast it was, we may have problems due to the quality of old copper cable and the distance between the exchange room and the client.
The service also loses quality, at times maybe you have many users on a wireless router sharing the same bandwidth, speed defiantly goes down.
TR: So how can a user know how far the exchange room is from his/her area, can they really tell?
IM: Our exchange rooms are clearly marked, for example in my area Pomona, Borrowdale West.
Once you locate the exchange room closest to you, you can calculate the distance to your house, the closer you are to the exchange the better the speed.
TR: ADSL is a fixed wired mode how does that compare with the wireless mode that your competitors are using in terms of reliability and mobility?
IM: Well that is an advantage and disadvantage, we are stable and reliable but we have other forms to cater for the mobile generation these days. We do have a plan on the cards that I will not divulge at this stage.
TR: Your charges for the ADSL are relatively steep compared to those charged in the region, are you not profiteering?
IM: We are providing this service at considerable cost because we have had to connect to the coastline undersea cable though other countries, remember we are landlocked.
Our connect fibre optic that connects with Seacom starts from Harare via Beitbridge then South Africa and the ESSay cable goes via Mutare then on to Beira.
These are costs we incur and we also subscribe to these services under the West Indian Ocean Cable (WIOC).
TR: We understand you have a mobile operator licence, can we expect a fourth mobile operator soon?
IM: Unfortunately, I cannot comment on that now, it is more of a policy and direction issue not just a product, lest I be misquoted.
If there are any developments we will let you know, we will be in touch.