More South Africans log on via mobile

9 July 2015

Cellphone use in South Africa surged by 822% in the years from 2000 to 2013, according to the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).

The number of cellular subscriptions in the country had increased from 8.3 million in 2000 to 76.8 million 2013, or by 822%, according to a Fast Facts report released by the think tank last week. Over the same period, the number of fixed-line telephone connections fell by 22%.

This increase in cellular subscriptions held both economic and political benefits, said IRR analyst and head of research, Lerato Moloi. “The economic benefits relate to the cheaper and more effective access to goods and services, and South Africa’s position as a leading tech industry in Africa.

“However, it’s the political benefits that are perhaps the most interesting. Increasing cellphone access promises to be a very effective antidote to state efforts at restricting access to information.”

Moloi said social media accessed via cellphones would help to ensure that South Africans could freely get and circulate information and ideas, despite the best efforts of the state to limit this.

“Attempts, for example, to introduce media tribunals or censor content on the public broadcaster would be less effective in the era of social media than would have been the case 20 or 30 years go. Cellular communications have therefore become an important asset in maintaining South Africa’s status as a free and open society.”

Moving online

The Fast Facts report showed that South Africa was continuing to shift towards a heavier online presence, in spite of relatively slow broadband speeds and high costs – South Africa’s internet speed of seven megabits per second is a fifth of the speed in the US, of 35.8mbps. Japan is far and away the fastest at 78.8mbps. However, at an average monthly cost of $19, the price of broadband in South Africa is six times that of the US, where it is $3.50.

The most popular way to use the internet locally is via cellphone. At 45.2%, almost half of adults who use the internet do so on their cellphones; 4.6% use wireless networks at home and 3.8% use their work access.

Interestingly, the most popular use of the internet via cellphones is instant messaging. The report found that 40% of adults, or people over the age of 16, used their cellphone connectivity in 2014 for instant messaging. This was followed by Facebook and searching, both at 27%.

Other popular uses are downloading podcasts, dating and games – 15% of adults online use the internet for games. Checking the weather and email are done by 13% of adults, while only 7% do online banking.

The biggest changes in internet activities between 2007 and 2014 are:

  1. Instant messaging – up 2 166% (40% as a proportion of all adults in 2014)
  2. Downloading a podcast – up 1 596% (3% of all adults)
  3. Dating – up 1 351% (4% of all adults)
  4. Games – up 1 221% (4% of all adults)

Listening to the radio online‚ downloading music, getting the news and share trading are also growing in popularity.

The Institute of Race Relations describes itself as a “classically liberal think-tank promoting the ideas and policy solutions necessary to drive the investment and economic growth that will free South Africa’s people from unemployment, dependency, and poverty”.

SAinfo reporter