SA broadband users jump 50%

23 March 2010

A new study on internet access finds that the number of South African accessing the internet via broadband connection has grown by more than 50% in the past year – a direct consequence of the growing need for round-the-clock connectivity.

The Internet Access in South Africa 2010 study, conducted by World Wide Worx and Cisco, shows that most of the growth in fixed line broadband comes from small and medium sized businesses upgrading to ADSL.

This in turn has extended internet access to more than half-a-milion South Africans working in small offices who did not previously have access.

It also reveals that wireless broadband subscriptions have grown by 88% in the past year against 21% for fixed-line ADSL subscriptions, mainly a result of large companies giving 3G cards to employees who need to be connected while out of the office.

“Wireless broadband is neither cheaper nor better quality, but it is more convenient and flexible, and it changes the way we think about where and how we use the internet,” World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck said in a statement last week.

The availability of both fibre access and new licences has also sparked an 18% increase in the number of internet access and service providers in South Africa.

‘The connected life’

According to the study, many workers in South Africa today can perform their jobs in or out of the office – “the connected life” – which allows workers to be productive, responsive and creative in or out of their traditional office spaces.

Remote or mobile workers can instantly access business-essential applications, colleagues, and partners worldwide regardless of their location, the study says, adding that this ability to collaborate and share information in real-time will undoubtedly help to increase business productivity and profitability across the region.

“A mobile broadband connection is a key enabler of the ‘connected life’,” said Cisco South Africa senior manager Reshaad Sha. “Cisco Internet Business Solutions group defines ‘connected life’ services as those services that can be consumed anytime, anywhere, on any device and by anyone.”

Terrestrial fibre-optic networks

While the study also reports on the current and expected impact of the new undersea cables, which have been making most of the headlines in Internet news recently, it also explores, for the first time, the impact of the roll-out of terrestrial fibre-optic networks across South Africa.

Whereas undersea cables connect the country to the world, terrestrial fibre extends that connectivity into the major cities and towns, where businesses and consumers are connected in turn.

“The combination of new undersea cables and terrestrial fibre-optic networks means we are seeing the emergence of the next generation of connectivity technology, both in fixed line and wireless services,” said Goldstuck.

“The missing ingredients now are the next generation of customer access equipment for those who are connected, and affordable availability of access for those who are not.”

If all current cable projects come to fruition by 2011, the total capacity of undersea cables connecting Africa to the rest of the world will have increase 150-fold over 2008. At the end of 2009, the capacity was 1 690 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps). At the end of 2010 it will be 5 410 Gbps, and a year later 14 770 Gbps.

Convergence of services

The study also delves into the impact internet access in having on South Africa, from increased access to government information services to new trends in entertainment and education.

From a data perspective, consumers are using the internet to create blogs and personal websites with text, pictures and video, while the convergence of formally disparate services – voice, video and data – has provided a variety of new experiences, such as the integration of broadcast TV, video on demand (VoD) and telephony services.

“The varied range of services and the demand consumers have started placing on Internet based application services has fuelled the uptake that we see today. Internet access speeds do need to scale in order to meet the demands of applications and services, specifically those that are video enabled,” said Sha.

“The network build outs that we are seeing in South Africa are positive steps towards the delivery of feature rich Internet services that most developed countries are already enjoying.”

SAinfo reporter

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