SA internet use skyrockets

Easy access to wireless, broadband-
supported internet has helped boost the
number of users in South Africa.

Khanyi Magubane

A new survey by technology research consultancy World Wide Worx has revealed that internet users in South Africa have grown by 12.5 % to 4.5-million in the past year.

This is the fastest growth since 2001 and is largely attributed to the growth of the country’s broadband services.

The report, sponsored by Cisco Systems, indicates that growth could have accelerated even further if it wasn’t for a “highly restrictive” regulatory environment.

World Wide Worx managing director Arthur Goldstuck says they are excited with the results.

“It is only the beginning of a dramatic turnaround, and is occurring despite numerous obstacles in the way of growth.”

Reshaad Ahmed, senior manager of Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions, says the evolution and changes in the telecommunications industry could not have come at a better time in South Africa.

“We believe these changes will lead to sufficient levels of competition, increase access to internet usage and in turn, increase global competitiveness and economic diversity.

“South Africa could, potentially, go from five major service providers to more than 300 overnight,” says Ahmed.

The Internet Access in South Africa 2008 report also showed that a major factor in the increase was small businesses taking advantage of broadband offering by connecting their employees via ADSL, which accounted for half of the growth in the market.

Increased sales of 3G cards and a dramatic shift from dial-up to broadband connections has also spiked to 50%.

Ahmed believes the changes taking place in the telecommunications industry will soon have a positive spin-off.

Changing the playing field

Communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi’s recent decision not to challenge the court case of about 300 Value Added Network Service providers to build their own networks will also play a big role in further growth.

“We are seeing a broadband culture emerging in South Africa, held back only by the restrictions still placed on data capacity,” says Goldstuck.

“These should start becoming a non-issue from the middle of 2009, as the first of the major new undersea cables enters operation. At that point, dial-up will effectively be dead as a connectivity option; it is more expensive, and utterly inappropriate to the changing nature of the internet.”

In mid-2009 Seacom, South Africa’s second transatlantic data cable, will go online. The increased bandwidth is expected to dramatically increase internet use. 

The cable, commissioned mainly by new market entrant Neotel, will increase South Africa’s international bandwidth 40-fold.

This era is also set to mark what World Wide Worx described as a “seismic shift in the internet landscape in Africa”.

“It spells the birth of an entirely new industry, and we are already seeing the market champing at the bit to become part of that industry,” says Goldstuck.

Goldstuck believes that the industry has been waiting for this change for a while.

A number of smaller semi-legal network operators that have appeared in the past year could well be on their way to obtaining full operating licences.

Once this happens, along with the new market entrants, the market would become extremely competitive, which would drive further growth.

Goldstuck says the emergence of several players in the market will be an advantage to the consumer, who will have more choice.

“These findings … indicate a positive trend for economic growth.  We believe that pervasive broadband at the right price is a key enabler for economic prosperity.”

But Cisco has warned that the expected change will not happen overnight.

“Only some of the 300-plus contenders will be in a position to manage their own networks due to their ability to raise the necessary capital,” says Ahmed.

“Those that do step up to the challenge must spend a significant amount of time building a business model that will be sustainable, innovative, and takes advantage of the strategic position with which a contender is faced, while employing the capabilities of existing service providers.”

Research company Nielson/NetRatings released other statistics on internet usage in South Africa in July 2008.

According to that research, the number of South African unique browsers is up 120% over the past two years and page impressions up 129%.

In May 2007, there were 3.9-million active South African unique browsers compared to 1.8-million in May 2005.

The research found that during the same period, page impressions grew from 91-million to 207-million.

On the gender of internet users, the internet population was divided between 54% men (2.15-million people) and 45% women (1.79-million people).

Most users – 36% of the online population – are aged between 25 and 34.

English was found to be the most dominant language, with 52% of the internet population (2.1-million). Users who surf the internet in Afrikaans followed at 1.11-million, accounting for 28% of those online.

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