Fast-growing telecommunications provider BitCo, which historically has focused on the voice communications market, is expanding aggressively into providing last-mile broadband services and has launched a home broadband product using unlicensed wireless spectrum. The product is meant as a “true ADSL alternative”, the company says.
Already, BitCo has about 100 wireless high sites, with plans to expand this by a further 30 by the end of the year, says founder and MD Garth van Sittert. The company offers coverage in parts of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and North West and also covers Bloemfontein and Nelspruit. It intends expanding to Cape Town later this year. Last month, it lit its first 1Gbit/s fibre circuit between Durban and Johannesburg to cope with growing traffic on its network. It also has capacity on four submarine cable systems.
The company’s sales director, Michael Colin, says BitCo will be “first in the queue” when communications regulator Icasa finally makes next-generation broadband spectrum available to prospective bidders. For now, though, the company is using unlicensed spectrum in the 5,8GHz band to provide broadband to its clients.
BitCo began life providing PABX and voice services, but found that a big challenge was providing reliable last-mile connections to businesses. It launched its own last-mile provider and demand proved “overwhelming”, says Colin. This business was then integrated into BitCo.
“As the wireless network grew, we physically exceeded the capacity of the microwave backhaul,” he says. “The radios couldn’t handle it, so we lit a dark fibre circuit into Randburg and built multiple fibre spurs along the way to our high sites.”
The next logical step, Colin says, was to develop an uncapped home broadband product that competes with Telkom’s ADSL service. “Essentially, it’s line-of-sight dependent. You have to see one of our high sites for it to work,” Colin explains. Consumers must be between 700m and 7km from a high site.
There are three plans available, based on download speed: 2Mbit/s (for R699/month), 5Mbit/s (R899) and 10Mbit/s (R1 499). The minimum upload speed is 1Mbit/s, or 2Mbit/s on the 10Mbit/s package. A month-to-month contract option attracts a R4 300 installation and configuration fee, while a 12-month plan costs R800 upfront and a 24-month commitment attracts no upfront fee.
BitCo uses multiple-input and multiple-output Wi-Fi technology – multiple antennas at the base station and at the receiver to improve performance – while backhaul is provided either through wireless links in licensed spectrum or through the company’s fibre networks.
Van Sittert says BitCo uses directional antenna technology to limit noise – the unlicensed band it uses is prone to interference and this helps minimise it. “We are also very strict with our installations,” he says. “We simply won’t [allow the signal to]go through trees and we reject a lot of applications.”
Colin says this is important to ensure speed guarantees and ensure quality connections. “If someone orders a 10Mbit/s product, they will get 10Mbit/s.”
Like other uncapped services, BitCo enforces an acceptable use policy, though this policy is fairly straightforward. It says simply that if someone runs torrents continuously, after an hour of maximising the line, the system automatically limits them to 50% of their throughput until they back off. After an hour, the line will once again run at full speed. Torrents are also deprioritised during the day, but are unrestricted after 6pm in the evening. There is no throttling on streaming video services like Netflix, says Van Sittert.
BitCo also offers residential users a voice service for R139/month. Consumers can plug any instrument into a spare port on the eight-port Cisco switch that is supplied with the home broadband product. Calls are charged at 86c/minute to mobile phones and 35c/minute to land lines. — © 2014 NewsCentral Media