Mobility has become increasingly popular, and the notion of being able to connect to the Internet from anywhere, at any time, has seen many wireless technologies being developed and brought to the market - where they are expected to be an easy sell.
One such offering is MyWireless, from commercially operated state-owned enterprise, Sentech Pty. Ltd. which was launched at the beginning of the year. It is attracting a lot of interest, but is not without its share of difficulties.
When Sentech launched its MyWireless service to the public, it promised always-on, cost-effective, high-speed broadband Internet connectivity for the home user and SMEs.
The MyWireless portable wireless Internet offering comes in three options. MyWireless 128kbps, 256kbps and 512kbps - at a fixed monthly cost of R650 (US$114) for a speed of 128kbps, R850 (256kbps) and R1 450 (512kbps), subject to a R500 activation fee, unlike the cellular market where charges are fixed for monthly fees as well calls made. "MyWireless is capable of supporting transmission speeds of up to 3Mbps to a portable wireless modem or PC card if users so require," says Pragasen Nagan, Sentech"s GM for sales and marketing.
A month after its Gauteng launch, MyWireless was launched in Durban. According to Winston Smith, Sentech portfolio manager, it had already sold 440 units in Gauteng alone, without any marketing campaign running. He said this was ?pleasing", and it seemed as if MyWireless was taking off in a big way, with the constraints of fixed copper lines being something of the past.
Things then started to turn rather ugly for the company. Initially customers were happy with the service, speeds and bandwidth, but, as the subscriber base grew, more and more customers said that they were experiencing problems.
The complaints included: not being able to connect in zones where the company said that the service would be available - which was always going to be a problem, as the company was still rolling out its infrastructure, and never promised all-round coverage; not getting the bandwidth and speeds promised; not getting desired support from the call desk - some customers saying that Sentech employees are not skilled enough; and customers not being given reasons why they were not getting what they were paying for, saying Sentech was giving them the run-around, and stalling.
Complaints were even laid with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA sent individual responses to complainants and Sentech. Smith says that customers still not happy with service can take complaints further, "but we have not received any further complaints".
This motivated one customer, probably the most memorable complainant, Roelf Diedericks - an IT professional, to take matters into his own hands, after trying for months to get what he was promised. The hate campaign was born, and more problems for Sentech started. Diedericks bought the domain names http://www.sentechsucks.co.za and http://www.mywirelesssucks, and launched his Web page, http://www.mywirelessucks.co.za, in what he said was an effort to pressure the company into increasing its promised download speeds. "All I wanted was an improvement in my download speed, an apology from Sentech for the problems experienced over the past couple of months, and a logical explanation of what exactly is wrong," he said. This was what basically what all complainants wanted, according to their postings on various Web sites.
Legal action threatened
During this time, little comment was heard from Sentech, and, according to customers, little or no improvement was made to the download speeds and services. The company, however, threatened to take legal action against Diedericks and demanded that he discontinue the Web site. Sentech"s lawyers, Bowman, Gilfillan John and Kernick, said that the reason was not to stop people from airing their grievances in a responsible matter, but because of Diedericks" "use of Sentech"s marks in the domain names... infringes on the company"s various rights at Common Law".
Sentech won this battle, and the Web site was taken down and the domain names sold to the company for R300. It also announced its partnership program, seeing the company acquiring 10 partners, including Autopage and Internet Solutions (IS).
Subscribers still complained, and said nothing had changed. The company then responded, and said that it conceded that there were some levels of frustration, and that it was taking action to improve the MyWireless service. In an effort to improve services it consulted with IP experts, and established a technical team to assist users with their problems on-site. It also brought international experts to SA to resolve some issues, and embarked on an "intensive training program" for its call center agents.
In terms of the slow speeds Sentech"s response remains to say that MyWireless is a contended or shared service. Marcel Raath, Sentec group executive, marketing and sales, notes, however: "We are going to monitor excessive usage and downloading on the network and identify abusers - as stipulated by our acceptable use policy (AUP) - and assist those users in managing their usage, in order to ensure fairness for all users." According to Diedericks, Sentech, in early August, said that it would sort out all problems within six weeks.
By this time the company said that it had installed a new bandwidth management system on all three MyWireless packages, aiming to ensure that available bandwidth was equally distributed to all users. It claimed to have reduced its contention ratio from 30:1 to 15:1, and said it aimed to reduce the ratio to 4:1 for local Internet access.
To add to matters, Diedericks on his new Web site - http://www.poopband.co.za - broke the news that he had found that MyWireless proxy servers are "transparent", and thus available for use by anyone anywhere in the world - not just MyWireless subscribers - and at subscribers" expense, no less.
According to Smith, the MyWireless contention ratio for local Internet is currently guaranteed at 4:1, but he says the company is achieving ratios of 1,5:1. "The formal international ratio communicated to customers is still at 30:1, but 15:1 ratios have been reached, and we are even achieving ratios of 6:1. I cannot announce that formally yet and hope to announce more information regarding this soon." Smith assures Computing SA that the open proxy server issue has been cleared up, and sounds up-beat about the future.
However, according to another disgruntled customer"s Web site blog (Ian Fraser), dated 19 November, the battle for increased speeds seems to be ongoing.