Telkom: We won’t throttle streaming video on unlimited wireless broadband

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Earlier today, Telkom announced that it will be launching a new range of unlimited broadband packages over its LTE network, which will be available on a first-come-first-served basis in selected areas from R599 a month.

R599 a month for all you can eat internet? Sounds too good to be true and sure enough, when you dig into the terms and conditions there are a few catches.

Specifically, we were concerned about its clauses that refer to “bandwidth intensive applications”. These, apparently, will be throttled during the hours of 6am and 12pm every day, and if they use more than 50GB of data in a month they’ll be restricted to 128kbps download speeds for the rest of the month.

The T&Cs state:

6. The SmartBroadband Uncapped Wireless service shall be offered at full speeds (no time limit applies) for all traffic types except bandwidth intensive protocols or applications which shall be at full speed between 12am – 6pm if within the 50GB cap. Once a subscriber reaches the 50GB cap the bandwidth intensive protocols or applications shall be throttled to 128kbps speed for the rest of the month. Full Speeds shall resume at the beginning of the next calendar month
7. The SmartBroadband Uncapped Wireless service will offer uncapped data for all traffic types except bandwidth intensive protocols or applications which shall be capped at 50GB
8. Bandwidth intensive protocols or applications are defined as Bit torrent traffic downloaded via Peer to Peer, Application to Application, Application to Server, news servers Protocols ( NNTP)
9. Bandwidth intensive protocols and applications shall also be throttled across the network to 128kbps during peak network periods of between 6pm – 12am to manage the networks quality of experience and quality of service for all users

Throttling P2P traffic in order to stop people killing a network with vast quantities of Bittorrent traffic is annoying, but standard practice these days. Bad luck if you’re trying to download a game update or new copy of Ubuntu over P2P, you register as a justifiable false positive in the eyes of network managers out to hamstring pirates. Ditto legit downloads from newsgroups.

But what on earth are “Application to Application” or “Application to Server” protocols. These aren’t industry standard definitions that mean anything specific in terms of identifiable traffic types – and are vague enough to include almost anything Telkom wants to throttle.

Is streaming Netflix an “Application to Server” activity, or listening to RDIO? What about MTN’s Front Row? Might Telkom want to restrict users there in favour of DSTV’s Box Office (with which there’s a commercial partnership in place).

We asked a Telkom spokesperson to clarify.

“Our intention is to catch Bittorrent traffic,” she told us, “We’re covering our bases so that we can also block methods that people use to hide Bittorrent traffic in other applications.

“We are not blocking video streaming or any HTTP or standard traffic.”

She went on to confirm that video and audio services will not count against the 50GB soft cap and will be part of the truly unlimited service. Also, the operator says that it will be using deep packet inspection to identify P2P traffic that the user is masking, but won’t be blanket blocking SSL traffic or applying reverse IP lookups to known newsgroup sources.

It is worth pointing out, though, that the unlimited service is further subject to Telkom’s standard FUP which can be invoked if a single user’s behaviour is ridiculously bandwidth intensive.

Which means two things. Firstly, that if you do use Telkom’s unlimited service after launch and run into problems with a legit streaming service, we’d love to know and will pass on any concerns to Telkom. And secondly, at R599 a month (for the first 50 users per mast) it’s really good value without many strings attached.

We’ve asked Telkom to consider rewording its T&Cs, though, to include specific definitions of “Application to Application” and “Application to Server” activity. Watch this space.

[Image – CC Clive Darra]

Adam Oxford

Adam Oxford

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar,, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.