About two weeks ago, we received three mobile broadband (and one of them primarily a voice device as well) from the Spiritage Group company called Brodacom. We got the opportunity to test the three devices over about 6 days, which gave us a more or less clear picture of the performance. We tested the devices in the Harare city center, Alexandra Park in Harare (at the office), a Harare residential suburb called Tynwald North, the Bulawayo city center, and a residential suburb in Bulawayo called Morningside.
This review is in sections, so feel free to jump to a section you’re more interested in if you don’t want to read the whole article. At the bottom, we conclude with some final remarks and our thoughts on the service.
Buying & setting up
Linovo laptop think pad
Apple Airpods pro
Ipad Min 2
Macbook Air 2015
The Brodacom voice and internet services right now come bundled with a device. The threed devices we tested are supplied by Xinwei, the Chinese company Brodacom has been working with for it’s mobile broadband and voice network.
There three devices available at the moment are the following:
The Super Fone
This device is primarily a desk phone that can also be used as an internet modem. The cost of the Super Fone is US $140. If you can’t afford that at one go, Brodacom gives an option to pay 50% deposit and the rest in a month.
The phone doesn’t have to stay plugged into power and the battery life is pretty good. We only charged it once in the 6 days we used it. Battery life is of course dependant on how heavy your usage is. The point here is we generally found it quite convenient especially with the consistent national power load shedding.
The phone comes with a long detachable antenna which is looks quiet weird but makes for great signal strength so we loved it.
Once switched on, you’re pretty much ready to start calling. To use it as an internet modem, you need to install drivers from a CD that comes with the phone, connect the phone to a computer using a standard USB cable, and you’re ready to browse.
The Plug`n Go
This device provides internet through Wi-Fi. Brodacom says it can accommodate up to 20 users at a time. The device costs US $175 and has the same credit options as the Super Fone (all devices do).
It doesn’t have a battery so it has to stay plugged into a power source. Also comes with a detachable antenna but a much smaller one.
When it comes to setting up for use, this has to be one of the most convenient internet devices out there. It literally is plug and go. Soon as you turn it on, it broadcasts its signals and if you have a Wi-Fi enabled device, all you need to do is enter the security codes and you’re ready to browse.
The device has an ethernet port for computer users that don’t have Wi-Fi. You can also hook it directly into a computer via USB but this automatically disables the device’s Wi-Fi.
The iSurf is a little internet modem that provides Internet only to a computer via USB. Brodacom is selling it for US $70, which is about the same range with other mobile broadband providers locally.
The device has a metal antenna which stays tucked inside the modem and has to be pulled out to use. It feeels like the old portable wireless FM radios.
Pricing is going to be one of Brodacom’s strongest points. The company has revised the pricing from what they published back in July. Generally, for the consumer market the 1GB bundle has come down from US $95 to US $70. The 3GB bundle from US $270 to US $190 and the 5GB US$ 580 down to US $300.
In order to top up the account with more data or voice, the subscriber has to first activate their account on a web platform provided by Brodacom. The account can be topped up using recharge scratch cards like the one on the left.
The odd thing we found about the Brodacom service is that when any of the devices are connected to a computer, you don’t get a small window to manually click ‘connect’, or to check your usage etc… Everything is in the background. You’re connected the moment you insert the modem into the computer’s USB port and to disconnect you just unplug it. To check usage you have to open the Brodacom web platform.
Browsing & download performance
All the three devices we used were operating at 1 Mbps, which in general terms just means fast browsing and internet. No lag streaming video on YouTube, and great quality voice calls on VoIP services like Skype. 1Mbps is the fastest the devices can do. Other data plans available are 512 Kbps and 256Kbps.
Let me say right away at this point that at 1Mpbs we found the Brodacom internet quite a pleasurable experience. It’s the kind of internet you switch on and just proceed with your work (or play) without having to worry about slow loading pages and buffering videos.
Peak and off peak browsing was the same. The performance at night was the same we got during the day.
We ran some tests on speedtest.net for those of you that love seeing raw figures. The tests were done from both Bulawayo and Harare and the results almost the same.
The speedtest results shown here are those carried out on 16 November in Harare.
As you can see, download from a local server is 830 Kbps and upload 160 Kbps. Download from an international server in London hit 750 Kbps and upload much lower than the local server at 60Kbps. We expected the latency to a local server to be lower than 315 ms but it’s not too high to cause worry still. The latency to an international destination was also quite low and therefore good.
At the time of the review, the Brodacom network covered Harare, Chitungwiza, Ruwa,
Norton, Bulawayo and according to Spiritage, Mutare is coming online soon. While we were told these areas are the definitely covered, we would advise that you specifically ask if your specific intended location of use has good coverage. The network is still young and chances are that there pockets of uncovered areas even within these locations.
In the 6 days we used all three devices the connection was very stable. You’d get that 2 minutes of downtime maybe 4 times or so a day. We think we probably only noticed because we were looking for it. It’s not something we find worthy complaining about and indeed quite common (if not worse) on other networks. A rough availability estimate would be something around 98 to 99%.
While this is a broadband internet review, one of the devices, the Super Phone, is a voice device first and internet features are ‘an extra’, so we’ll just talk about the voice a bit.
Like the data, voice was also a great experience. Sound quality was at par (if not better) than that we are getting from the GSM trio that is NetOne, Telecel and Econet.
If you’re an individual or small business and want cheaper voice calls, Brodacom (and Africom) are surely the way to go in terms of the desk phone device. The Brodacom and Africom mobile phones are a diferent matter altogether and are not part of this review. The service is cheaper than TelOne, who until Brodacom and Africom came along, offered the lowest voice tariffs. We did an article Brodacom voice tariffs before. You can find it here.
Of course if you’re considering buying, you need to keep in mind that Brodacom doesn’t have coverage everywhere in Zimbabwe. Ask them if your area is covered before your purchase. Ask them if they can test even.
The other thing to keep in mind is that at the time of writing, Brodacom was not interconnected to TelOne and NetOne. This means, until there’s interconnection you cannot call your contacts on those networks. You also cannot make any international calls yet. Brodacom says this will soon be possible. When ‘soon’ will come is of course anyone’s guess.
In conclusion, we recommend the Brodacom service. The price is great. The network feels pretty solid and stable. The browsing is fast. You get (well, almost depending on how you look at it) the 1 Mbps promised speed.
It’s still not the lowest priced mobile broadband service on the market but it works so exceptionally well, we recommend that you consider it. It’s the first mobile broadband experience that we’ve used that has provided speeds close to 1Mbps consistently. Of course there’s no telling if they will maintain the exceptional data service. Remember this is a capacity game. As they sign on more subscribers they’ll need to up their capacity to match the numbers, and if they don’t, the quality of the internet and voice will definitely go down.
On the claims “We have a true 4G network”, well, as we always say, don’t look too much into those adverts you see. They’re just marketing their product and differentiating themselves from other providers. The fact alone that these devices under review can only do up to 1Mbps means you will not experience any 4G using them. Our suggestion is to forget the 4G stuff, consider all other facts and if the service fits what you’re looking for, to make your decision.
By the way, we say here that it’s not the lowest priced mobile internet because it’s proving hard for any mobile broadband provider right now to match Africom’s US $18 for a gigabyte. Especially that Africom lets you buy multiple dongles on the same account (which separately get a US $18 Gig), and that they keep reducing the price of the dongles. Still, the Brodacom network stability and internet speed we experienced was superior to the Africom experience that we are getting.