Shaped vs Unshaped DSL bandwidth (using Afrihost & Cybersmart)

I did some test results today comparing Afrihost (Shaped) vs Cybersmart (Unshaped, sorta)

The comparison is not “fair” in a sense, as Afrihost clearly states that they offer Shaped bandwidth. 

Shaped bandwidth means that “typical” web traffic is prioritzed. (Afrihost calls it “the most important web protocols (e.g. Internet browsing and email)”

What is often not said about Shaped Bandwidth is that it only really helps with cached websites. So you’ll be fine when reading, but reading your online email or doing online banking is a different story.

Without going into details: If you’re running a business that does online email (e.g. Google Apps, Gmail, Hotmail), make use of Web 2.0 applications (, Highrise, Youtube, Freshbooks) or do VoIP (Skype, NetMeeting, WebEx) you should NOT use shaped bandwidth. Of course you could weigh up the extra minutes wasted against the money saved. (Afrihost offers R29 per GB Shaped bandwidth, compared to Web Africa’s superior Unshaped service at R125 per GB!) 

A few months ago, Skyrove signed a deal with Cybersmart that involves getting their bandwidth at preferential prices. They don’t classify their bandwidth as “shaped” or “unshaped”, as they’re not using traditional SAIX bandwidth. 

Here are some test results comparing Skyrove bandwidth (provided by Cybersmart) against Afrihost bandwidth: 

1. Download/Upload Speed Test (Cape Town to Johannesburg)


(The above was the slowest result of 3, the fastest was 3.45)



This was result from the first test, which I found a bit puzzling. There is normally no perceivable difference between shaped and Unshaped when doing basic download tests. I did the test 3 more times, and got the following results: 

Test 2 – 0.49 Mb/s down, 0.32 Mb/s up (down even more)
Test 3 – 3.41 Mb/s down, 0.29 Mb/s up (that’s better, maybe it was just temporary…)
Test 4 – 0.51 Mb/s down, 0.32 Mb/s up (Nope, down again) 

So it looks pretty erratic! I haven’t seen this kind of result before, and didn’t test again at a different time period to see if it’s a general problem. 

2. Download/Upload Speed Test (Cape Town to London)





3. Local Ping Test (Cape Town to Johannesburg) – Important for gaming, VOIP 



Both ISPs are ‘A’ graded (excellent), as expected, for local ping. For gaming, it’s generally recommended that you have a sub-60ms ping (to the gaming server). Provider the gaming server is in South Africa, you shouldn’t have problems using either Afrihost or Cybersmart. 

4. International Ping Test (Cape Town to London)


Cybersmart comes in as B graded “Very Good”. Everything should be fine, but “Some online games may not perform optimally”


Afrihost’s Shaped offering gets ‘C’ graded here. “Acceptable. Your VoIP quality will suffer some, and you will have a disadvantage in online games. Test again to confirm” So basically: Forget about online gaming or having any business teleconference calls via Skype. 


There is a BIG difference between Shaped & Unshaped bandwidth, both as far as speed & price is concerned.Unshaped internet may be more expensive, but if you use it, you’d find that the “experience” of internet browsing is just as good as using it in the US. 

They are so different, in fact, that it should be compulsory for ISPs who provide shaped bandwidth to always append “Shaped” (or even better: “Basic”) to the end of their DSL product name, rather than hiding it away in the FAQs. 

Labeling would be a start, but even better would simply be to ban Shaped bandwidth overall. It’s a deliberately crippled service and is likely done (by Telkom) in order to overcharge for Unshaped bandwidth.


1. DISCLAIMER: I work for Skyrove and Cybersmart is a shareholder. These tests are not independent and weren’t peer reviewed (before we have claims of BandwidthGate). Proper testing would involve testing from multiple locations, servers, ISPs, times. 

2. Skyrove does not sell DSL packages, but we use DSL at the vast majority of our WiFi Hotspots.

3. All tests were done around 6 pm on a Sunday. Results will vary during the week during working hours. 

2 thoughts on “Shaped vs Unshaped DSL bandwidth (using Afrihost & Cybersmart)

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