Telkom. Just the very name is enough to cause gnashing of teeth, howls of anger and horror stories - and for good reason.
The company attained a poor reputation over the past decade thanks to its exorbitant connection fees and what many felt was beyond woeful customer service.
The incumbent also incurred the wrath of ISPs due to its monopolistic business practices. Whether it was the local-loop unbundling debacle or the high cost of IP Connect, the operator only seemed to dig itself deeper into the grave (until the inevitable bailout).
Over the past year or two however, the company has made quite a turnaround, and now, it would seem that Telkom is slowly redeeming itself. It's hard to believe, I know, but stay with me on this...
Moving with the times
The company's mobile arm, 8ta, dropped a bomb when it unveiled a ridiculous 10GB for R199 mobile broadband package. It was an aggressive move by the nascent 8ta, showing that the company was serious about disrupting the market.
"But that doesn't count, 8ta is essentially a separate arm! Plus, they're a new entrant into the market! They're going to be aggressive initially!" I hear you say. Fine. Okay, I'll keep 8ta out of this, despite the fact that they've managed to make a splash. Let's look at their ADSL business.
The company made some long overdue moves in the fixed-line market, with the first salvo being the 10Mbps line upgrades in late 2010. Telkom moved a sizeable chunk of its 4Mbps customers to the higher speed lines, at no extra charge.
Of course, not many people can afford 4Mbps or 10Mbps service, but the company has made a few strides at the lower-end too. Telkom upgraded its 512Kbps product to 1Mbps in 2011, with plans for its 384Kbps package to be increased to 1Mbps in the coming months.
Then, in what many felt was an unthinkable move, Telkom introduced uncapped internet service at rAge last year, starting at R219 for 384Kbps. Granted, you can get a better deal from the likes of MWEB, Afrihost and WebAfrica (10Mbps uncapped data for over R2000? Get outta here!), but it's another step in the right direction.
Make no bones about it though, this is just Telkom playing catch-up to contemporary countries, such as India and Russia. But the network is preparing for the future in a big way.
Preparing for the long term
Uncapped accounts and line upgrades mean absolutely nothing if your network is in tatters, as is the case with Telkom. Congestion, slow browsing speeds and all sorts of other related woes were reported, so it was clear that something had to be done.
The incumbent introduced a fibre-to-the-curb plan in many areas, aimed at reducing the length of the hop from the street to a Telkom exchange. The fibre plan will also replace the existing copper-based loops, which should mean less down-time due to theft.
Now, Telkom is embarking on its biggest and most radical development yet, rolling out over 3000 next-generation cabinets.
The infrastructure, capable of delivering up to 40Mbps over ADSL or 1Gbps over fibre, is set to herald a new dawn for the South African telecoms industry. The new infrastructure will also enable video-on-demand services and a variety of other packages, giving South Africans more bang for their buck.
Don't get me wrong though, there's still a way before Telkom becomes more than just a necessary evil.
For one, line rental rates and data costs are still prohibitively expensive for the average consumer, driving users to cheaper 3G offerings.
Secondly, the company has plenty to improve upon in the customer service area, as anyone currently waiting on-hold can attest to.
Then there's the ongoing Icasa deliberations surrounding local-loop unbundling, a process seemingly in limbo.
But for now, the operator is making moves that bode well for the future of the industry - and it's about time.