Review: ZOL Mobile WiMAX Internet

   

Editor’s note: This review contribution on the new ZOL mobile WiMAX offering was provided through by Chenjerai Katanda, founder of Schools Sports Network, a website that covers Zimbabwean Schools Sports.

zol-ecoweb-dongleSometime in November of last year I caught wind of the news that ZOL was now offering Mobile WiMAX Dongles. Due to the nature of my work I was instantly drawn to it but I was doubtful as the deal sounded too good to be true – Uncapped mobile internet for $29 a month and the you get the dongle for free – and it was by word of mouth which can be very misleading at times.

zol-wimax-packageOn a visit to the ZOL’s offices at Eastgate got confirmation that the deal was indeed true so I didn’t waste any time and signed up. Having been already on ZOL WiMAX, I was aware of the fact that ZOL had offered different packages based on connection speed but upon enquiry I was told they could only bring the dongle to 1Mb/s for $59 instead of 512Kb/s at $29 per month. Without hesitation I went for the 1Mb/s connection. Account setup, dongle-in-hand, subscription paid equals unlimited ZOL mobile internet. Not so fast! They needed my laptop to setup the certificate on my laptop but I didn’t have it on me so I offered to get the certificate file on a thumb drive and set it up on my own then call for help if I encountered problems.

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ecoweb-wimaxInstallation of the application was a breeze and I made sure the certificate file was in the right place but after all that I could not connect. It was on installation that I noticed that this was the same offering that entered the market some four years ago under Ecoweb. The dongle and its packaging having been rebranded with ZOL’s graphics but the application is still branded EcoWeb. Having struggled to connect I called ZOL’s help line, held the line for about three minutes before I got assistance. The installation file that came with the dongle turned out to be the problem and an email containing an .exe file from ZOL support shortly after the call solved the problem and I was connected.

Since then I have been using this dongle when I am out and about covering school sports doing things like live blogging and video streaming. For the purposes of this review, I took the dongle on a spin this past week to come up with a solid verdict on how good this offering from ZOL really is. All of the tests were conducted in the Harare CBD and even though ZOL promises me a 1Mb/s download speed all tests conducted on Friday afternoon gave results upwards of 2Mb/s but there was a significant difference in latency when testing with local servers against overseas servers but that’s no surprise really.

speedtest-results-newyork
Test to a server in New York
speedtest-results-london
Test to a server in London
speedtest-results-beijing
Test to a server in China
Server Location Ping Download Upload
Harare / Dandemutande 93ms 2.96Mb/s 0.45Mb/s
Johannesburg / Cell C 71ms 2.44Mb/s 0.48Mb/s
London / London Web 251ms 3.16Mb/s 0.46Mb/s
New York / Towerstream 322ms 2.32Mb/s 0.39Mb/s
Beijing / Beijing Mobile Comms 452ms 2.87Mb/s 0.08Mb/s

 

As a number of people have disputed that speedtest.net speeds are not really what you get when doing real stuff on the internet I took the test further to figure out “real” download speeds. The first test was to download a Linux iso from the local mirror setup by ZOL then I performed the same download directly from the Ubuntu website. Surely the speeds were not the same as the ones achieved with speedtest.net but if you remember the speeds from the days when Econet first introduced mobile internet via GPRS you’ll agree that these speeds on-the-go are pretty impressive.

DownloadFromZolMirror
Test download from local ZOL mirror

The highest speed achieved using the local mirror was 423Kb/s and it hovered around 400Kb/s for the minute I let the download run. Surprisingly the download from Ubuntu’s server achieved higher speeds than the local download, hovering around 500Kb/s for the duration of the test which lasted two minutes. (See screenshot below) Please note that I ran the downloads in the free download manager from Orbit.

download-from-ubuntu
Test download from the Ubuntu servers

With the statistical stuff out of the way I headed to YouTube to continue the test. The connection fared well for all video qualities up to and including 720p but took a bit of buffering to play 1080p videos. Skype video call quality was decent while voice call quality was excellent.

For the general things that most people require internet for when on the move, the mobile dongle from ZOL will not disappoint, that is if you are within WiMAX coverage. I have not had much trouble with coverage around Harare though. I can confirm that I have used the dongle at Eaglesvale (close to Budiriro), St John’s College in Borrowdale (Reception here was great), Arundel in Mt Pleasant and Watershed College in Marondera, which was probably the slowest connection I got. However there are still some cold spots like St George’s College where I found the dongle unusable within the school grounds.

Taking into account the price tag on this one and what it can do it will be a no-brainer not to give this one a try but if you intend to use this as your sole home internet connection I’d advise you confirm with ZOL that you have good reception in your area.


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