The Price of Internet, 2015

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2015 looks like it’s going to be a good year for Sri Lankan consumers. SLT’s lowering of Internet prices caught us all by surprise, and despite the occasional drop and disconnect (we don’t quite understand how rain makes a wired connection go haywire in such a predictable manner), this means that local internet is getting a bit cheaper, a tad more efficient, and certainly better than in a lot of countries out there.

That said, let’s have a look at what you can buy.

*remember that service providers calculate in Megabits per second (Mbps) and opposed to Megabytes per second. Since 8 bits = 1 byte,  a roughly accurate calculation is to divide the figure promised by 8 to find out how many megabytes you can download per second.

 

FIXED

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Sri Lanka Telecom

Pricing: 4/5
Availability: 5/5
Performance: 3/5
Customer service: 2/5

SLT is the de facto choice for almost all fixed lines. It’s risen to where it is because, in the past, SLT was the only choice. However, the days of horrible Internet are behind us, and SLT’s Internet is …. pretty good, really. We’ve tested out the default choice for most Sri Lankans – the 35 GB Web Family package, which (aha, fine print) promises between 2 and 16 (newly doubled) Mbps on download. Torrents average a respectable 450-500 kbps, which falls somewhere in the vicinity of 4 Mbps.

Right now, SLT is the standard for gamers due to the relatively low pings to servers.

Viable mid-tier packages:

Web Family (35 GB a month, between 2 to 16 Mbps) – Rs 1490 + Tax

Web Surfer (50 GB a month, between 2 to 16 Mbps) – Rs 2690 + Tax

Web Pro (85 GB a month, between 2 to 16 Mbps) – Rs 4890 + Tax

We’ve left out SLT’s “Light User” packages, because honestly, they’re quite stupid in this day and age of high-bandwidth content. A 2.5 GB package at 512 kbps is barely worth looking at.

Viable top-tier packages:

Web Master (155 GB a month, between 4 and 16 Mbps) – Rs 8890 + Tax

Web Champ (230 GB a month, between 8 and 16 Mbps) – Rs 13,690 + Tax

Web Life (Rs 375 GB a month, between 8 and 16 Mbps) – Rs 19,890 + Tax

As you can see, things get expensive really fast. The good news is that, by and large, SLT delivers what it promises. They have a disclaimer in place that says they deliver a minimum of 60% of what they promise, meaning you get what you agree to pay for: we’ve tested out the Web Champ – Bhanuka uses two of those, don’t ask why – and it averages 9.6 Mbps – well within the quoted figures.

The bad news is that little things like water falling from the sky generally wreaks havoc on your connection. You will also have to deal with SLT’s infamously incompetent customer support staff, who, when they deign to pick up the phone, seem to have the networking knowledge of a three-year-old. Technologically, however, SLT’s service is generally better than many foreign ISPs.

 

Lankabell

Pricing: 3/5
Availability: 2/5
Performance:3/5
Customer service: 4/5

Lankabell is an interesting beast. At the entry level, its prices match SLT – they have a 4G connection that provides an alternative to the Web Family package from SLT. Beyond that, their strategy seems to be to offer slow, but basically unlimited internet – not great for someone who wants to YouTube all day, but die-hard downloaders might appreciate it. Might. Because their coverage map is miniscule, and pings are all over the board – it’s something to do with the routing path. Not to mention the cheaper fixed packages are really, really slow – 1 Mbps is 150 KBps when downloading.

Intro Pack (4G) (35 GB a month, between 1 and 4 Mbps) – Rs 1350 + Tax

Economy (Unlimited, between 256 Kbps and 1 Mbps) – Rs 3,000 + Tax

Economy+ (Unlimited, between 256 Kbps and 1 Mbps, Static IP) – Rs 6,000 + Tax

Home & Office (Unlimited, between 512 Kbps and 2 Mbps) – Rs 5,500 + Tax

Home & Office+ (Unlimited, between 512 Kbps and 2 Mbps, Static IP) – Rs 8,500 +Tax

Premier Pack (Unlimited, between 1 Mbs and 4 Mbps) – Rs 10,500 + Tax

Premeir Pack (Unlimited, between 1 Mbps and 4 Mbps) – Rs 13,500 +Tax

As far as promised speeds are concerned, our 4G test unit at Wattala (Andrew) worked just fine, delivering a good 60 of the upper bracket of the promised range. However, other than the 4G, the pricing, availability and pings just don’t come together well enough for that upper bracket to be very useful. Interestingly, they’re the only ISP to place such prominence on static IPs.

 

Dialog

Pricing: 3/5
Availability: 1/5
Performance: 5/5
Customer service: 4/5

There’s no doubt about it: Dialog is one of the best performing ISPs, with their 4G packages providing some really decent speeds and pricing. The default hardware is solid – you can give quite a few people WiFi with it – and oddly enough, it’s also epic for multiplayer gaming – we’ve played Dota 2 with pings of just 75 to Singapore servers. The customer support is polite, and…well, you get the picture. Add to the fact that the 4G fixed broadband is not as fixed as it sounds – it’s basically a giant dongle and you can take it practically anywhere. It even has a battery.

The problem? You have to be within Dialog’s 4G coverage zone for all this magic to happen. Said coverage zone being about the size of a peanut, this means that anybody not in in the general vicinity of Colombo is plain dumb out of luck. Mazin’s lucky. We’re not.

Lite (26 GB, between 1 Mbps and 4 Mbps) – Rs 1,400 + Tax

Ultra (61 GB, between 1 Mbps and 4 Mbps) – Rs 3,900 + Tax

The ultra pack in particular is useful, especially if you’re a heavy downloader who moves around a lot.

 

MOBILE

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Mobile broadband (aka “the dongle”) is difficult to write about. Most mobile broadband connections in the country are firmly HSPA – 4G has yet to really take off. Despite ISP’s claims, the very nature of HSPA makes for wildly different speeds and experiences in different parts of Sri Lanka. It’s not just the coverage. Rain, lightning, random people spitting in your direction, an election poster blocking your signals – it’s inherently too unstable for us to point at and say “here, this performs well.”

A more generally useful comparison would be to analyze the value propositions of competing ISPs. (Keep in mind that some ISPs have more packages than indicated here. 4G pricing is not linked here – if you’re looking for 4G data packages, spend a bit more time browsing the Dialog and Mobitel sites).

Etisalat Postpaid Prepaid

Dialog Postpaid Prepaid

Hutch Postpaid Prepaid

Airtel Postpaid Prepaid

Mobitel Postpaid Prepaid

As can be seen, offerings are largely similar, with enough deviation in data caps and peak times to provide slightly different value for money points with different ISPs.

Because of the low initial cost and relative lack of hoops to jump through, many households use mobile broadband connections. Compared to fixed lines, cost per GB is quite high  – with very few exceptions – but certain packages provide entry-level accessibility and mobility for a great deal of users.

There are two packages that are an exception to this: Dialog’s Nightime package, which offers unlimited (uncapped) internet access between 12 and 6 AM for Rs 100, and Hutch’s new Twelve to Six package, which promises the same for Rs 70. We’ve received reports of users downloading around 20 GB a day using these packages.

Depending on network availability, either of these packages, paired with a serviceable fixed connection, effectively flips the value-for-money chart on its head.

It looks like things are indeed getting better for Sri Lanka- at least, as far as Internet is concerned. ♦

13 COMMENTS

  1. Can someone help me figure this out? SLT recently increased my speed from 8 to 16 mega bits per second. That’s great. But I don’t seem to have seen any infrastructure change. How is it that this connection is suddenly capable of 15 mega bits per second when the old connection couldn’t reach more than 7.2 .

    Put another way, how come my connection is suddenly capable of more than 8 Mbps when it previously wasn’t capable of even reaching 8?

    Put another way, was there some actual infrastructure change in the background? Or have I been artificially limited from getting 100% of my connection all this while?

  2. SLT should implement counting the usage like some European ISPs, where traffic within the country is not counted towards the quota. This would truly benefit people who want to play online games.

  3. Every internet provider in sri lanka sucks. If the connection speed is 16Mbps and you get only 40GBs of data. How long can you survive? a month , i don’t think so. You’ll runout of data in about 14 days maximum.

    Technically if you’re getting 16Mbps, you have about a 2MB/s download speed( 7200MB per hour and you’ll hit the limit in just 5.5 hours) . So how can you rate slt 4/5 ?? I would rate slt 0.1/5(No comment about the other ISPs).

    Fiber connections that are offered by SLT. it has about a 50Mbps download speed and you still have the 40GB limit as the base configuration.

  4. The normal law of commerce and economics is that when you buy things in larger and larger packages the unit price keeps coming down. Therefore, the price per GB of data should keep decreasing when you sign up for bigger packages! But why is this not happening?

    I think the ISPs are simply avaricious. They are exploiting the great demand for this service and attempting to make inordinate profits!

  5. dear Sugu , i am totally agree with you. because million or Rs need to pay as a salary for a single person . Let the subscribers pay monthly rental and they enjoy the life. what is the internet speed today. i have seen many countries poor than SL. but at least they have some considerable speed and manageable.

    But in our country whole lot are specialist but out come is negative. Thanks SLT. you are the great. At least try to improve the internet speed.

  6. The Internet is a major component in intellectual development of a country. Make it cheap and accessible to everyone. Those bw limits and the rates are crazy.

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