New-kid ISP Wondernet is planning pre-paid fibre – plugged straight into a fat undersea cable

Business Insider SA
  • Wondernet, a new home-fibre ISP owned by Seacom, launched in May.
  • Seacom runs one of the large internet cables along the east coast of Africa.
  • It is targeting gamers, amongst others, and promising unshaped, unthrottled, and uncapped service.
  • It is also looking at how to introduce a pre-paid fibre system, instead of the current subscription model.
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Three months in, Seacom’s home fibre provider, Wondernet, says it’s beaten both sales and revenue forecasts as the demand for fibre surged during lockdown.

And it’s got some ideas about how to keep growing – such as pre-paid fibre.

In May Seacom, which owns and runs one of the large undersea internet cables along the east coast of Africa, launched its own fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) ISP in South Africa. That saw it starting to compete with ISPs such as Afrihost, Cool Ideas, and Vox Telecom, which may use its cable in part of their own service.

The move was somewhat surprising to consumers, something akin to Boeing starting its own airline, but Steve Briggs, Seacom’s chief commercial officer, say it had been a long time coming.

In 2017, Seacom bought Cape Town-based ISP Macrolan, which meant the company suddenly found itself with around 3,000 fibre customers. The company already had a similar service for business clients.

“We watched with interest as the number of customers kept growing,” says Briggs.

This year the company formed a dedicated consumer brand for home fibre customers, Wondernet.

The company has a number of expansion strategies. Briggs says they’re talking to providers and looking closely at a pre-paid fibre model, instead of the post-paid, subscription-based model of today.

“Take the PayTV market for example. In rural areas most houses have dishes on the roof, and they’re making use of a prepaid model where you buy vouchers up front.

Vumatel launched pre-paid fibre – for lower-income areas – in October 2019, though a regulatory fight partially held back those ambitions.

See also | Alexandra was supposed to get very cheap – and super fast – fibre more than a year ago. Here’s why Mitchells Plain will probably get there first.

Wondernet also wants to be there as fibre operators expand into smaller cities such as Bloemfontein and Pietermaritzburg, and it wants to entice you away from your current ISP by promising better reliability and a focus on speed.

“Many FTTH customers in South Africa have to put with lousy line quality and service,” says Briggs. “We’re saying ‘come straight to the source.’”

“We’ll plug you straight into the cable. There’s no throttling, no shaping and no data caps.”

That means Wondernet’s squarely targeting gamers, who are sensitive about their line speeds.

“Most of our engineers and product developers are gamers. Our roundtrip speeds are best on the network,” he says.

The company comes in at mid-point on the pricing level. On Octotel, for instance, it's offering a 10 down/5 up service for R699. A 20/5 service will set you back R819 a month and a 100/25 offering goes for R999 a month.

(Compiled by Edward-John Bottomley)

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