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Review: Brodacom mobile broadband internet

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

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

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.

Data pricing

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.

The first image is a test to a local server (ZOL in Harare) and the second, an international desitination in London.

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.

Network coverage

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.

Connection stability

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%.

The voice

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.

Final remarks

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.


Quick NetOne, Econet, And Telecel Airtime Recharge

26 thoughts on “Review: Brodacom mobile broadband internet

  1. You sound really impressed.Just wondering though ie on the real issue which is MAKING MONEY how are these guys doing and is there a market where these guys can say “yes we are doing good business”. The bottom line is a profit and i don’t know but i have a gut feeling these guys have a lot to do

  2. …not a bad review but one gets the impression they threw in the trial stuff as a freebie to you in order to get a positive review (lol)…coverage is always their challenge,its always hre,byo,mutare pretty much areas that are well covered by others already! As for internet pricing,Telone for me rules the roost-$110 for 30GB…I am aware of various variables associated,but do we care that much?

  3. Great news that the system seems well thought out and stable, however time will tell once more people start using it.  Once contention ratios and wireless load start impacting on the platform.  Its a good start, hope they can keep it up, we may need to look at this as a backup internet connection and work VOIP number.

  4. thanks guys for such a well detailed article though the prices and coverage still is an issue to talk of

    1. ”   In 2010, Xinwei successfully concluded a McWiLL® commercial agreement
      with a Zimbabwean operator. Xinwei provides a solution package of all
      the mobile telecom services which makes the operator a full service
      player nationwide, upgrading its old business model of “providing data
      service to high-end users only” to new business model of “providing
      voice, data, video services to the public and industries”. McWiLL® has
      enabled the operator to compete against the incumbent operators running
      GSM, CDMA, 3G, and WiMAX networks.” http://www.xinwei.com.cn/

      *********************************************************
      from http://www.myanmaritpro.com/forum/topics/mcwill-and-cdma-evdo-speed?x=1&id=1445004%3ATopic%3A241849&page=2

      I  tested at Monday, March07,12:30 AM. Same laptop,nearly the same time.

       

      Below table shows speed test information.

      Name

      Download Speed from http://talk.yatanarpon.com.mm

      Ping 203.81.170.134

      DNS

      McWiLL (CPE628W)

      104kBytes/s

      61ms

      203.61.162.22

      CDMA EVDO  (USB modem)

      17kBytes/s

      151ms

      203.61.162.22

       

      ***********************************************************
      Looks like this McWILL technology is superior than CDMA2000 (Africom & Powertel)

  5. Just a suggestion to the testers.  Would you mind testing the gadgets in Chitungwiza in areas close to Makoni and Zengeza.  We have had experiences with Africom and Econet where one buys the dongle and the connection is just atrocious.  At least Africom agreed to reimburse my money when I complained about the non-existant service!  For Chitown it’s a case of so near and yet so far away with these ISPs…

  6. Many thanks for review.I hope its a truly independent test & review. Hope also they ll maintain speed to customer ratio, every new isp offers excellent speeds at low traffic. Great that Byo is covered in review also, u guys are good. Overall no one beats telone @ $30/10gb/256kbps though l acknowledge even in S.A mobile broadband is still relatively expensive.

  7. This review is bogus. I have used these 4g phones and they are terrible. Slow. Not Mac compatible. Not Linux compatible. Buggy. Did u dudes get paid for thus bull?

    1. mmmmh thats a lie boss.i have their desks phone and i can say i dont have any prob with it.the voice is perfect as well as the data.maybe thats not a BRODACOM GUDGET.

  8. Kudhura kani kevyjnr chema hako sha vanhu vari kudhura rough ava aaaaa imi garaine zvininternet zvenyu please

  9. The review is excellent. i think i will go buy mine and get some hands but well written guys. Keep up the good work.

  10. Thanks for that article. I hope broadercom will surely make it much easier to go to the individuals but pricing and coverage should be considered speedily…

  11. Good review. But their asttention to quality and service is very doubtful. They are an internet company but they dont have a functioning website. Zvinomborevei?? And, because the interswitchability of their phone network is not yet up to scratch, its hard to get thru to them. They know this, but they dont give you temporary TelOne/Econet/Telecel numbers to call on. Small insignificant things like this are a sign of shoddy, frustrating, and wallet-fleecing things to come. And I bet they will take on excessive numbers of subscribers that exceed the capacity of their equipment (as if suppliers of the equipment do not specify capacity), and will only upgrade after their service has creaked to a near halt. Mark my words.  Econet, Africom, TelOne have done it, what makes Brodacom any different???

  12. Brodacom certainly is not 4G, it’s just plain and simply awful. I got a
    “plug and Go” set from brodacom yesterday, after being promised that i
    would be able to get a good signal in Greendale. got home, plugged the
    device in, waited, waited, waited waited, waited, eventually i got one
    bar on the receiver! so decided to check my e-mail, it took 35 mins to
    download 5mb of data….. wow that is super fast isn’t it Brodacom!!
    what a load of rubbish! I think the old dial up connections were faster.
    I moved the router all over the house, up and down, even at one point
    putting it on the front lawn…. got 2 bars on the receiver, so i
    thought it might be a good position, i got 10kbps… again…shocking!
    in the morning i packed it up and took it to my office in Milton park to
    test it, same things, same disgusting speed! What is wrong with
    Brodacom, stop talking rubbish on your adverts, be honest as to why your
    packages are unlimited…because you don’t have to worry that your
    users will be able to download more than 100 mb every month, cos the
    speed is god awful! I am now waiting to return this piece of crap called
    plug and go! if you want advice do not buy it…buy powertel, africom
    or wait in vain for tel-one adsl…. either way you will be waiting.
    Conan

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