Internet in South Africa
The Internet is expanding in South Africa, which is one of the most technologically-resourced countries on the African continent. The internet country code top-level domain (CcLD) .za was granted to South Africa by ICANN in 1990.
Over 60% of internet traffic generated on the African continent originates from South Africa.
History of the internet in South Africa
The first South African IP address was granted to Rhodes University in 1988. On 12 November 1991, the first IP connection was made between Rhodes' computing centre and the home of Randy Bush in Portland, Oregon. By November 1991, South African universities were connected through UNINET to the internet. Commercial internet access for businesses and private use began in June 1992 with the registration of the first .co.za subdomain. The African National Congress, launched its website, anc.org.za, in 1997, making it one of the first African political organizations to establish an Internet presence around the time that the Freedom Front Plus (Vryheidsfront Plus) registered vryheidsfront.co.za.
According to 2007 and 2008 estimates, about 4% of the continental population in Africa have Internet access. Overall online activity is disproportionately distributed in South Africa, with 2/3 of overall online activity in Africa being generated in South Africa which accounts for 5% of the continent's population. Most of the remaining 1/3 of online activity is distributed between Morocco and Egypt. The number of internet subscribers by percentage, however, is greater in smaller countries such as the Seychelles, where as much as 37% of the population has internet access, while only 11% of the South African population have internet access.
While the internet user base increased to an estimated 6 million in 2008, the growth curve of paying internet accounts is recognized to be flattening. The total number of wireless broadband subscribers overtook that of fixed line broadband subscribers in South Africa during 2007. The total number of broadband subscribers is estimated at 750,000 by 2008, of which Telkom reported 491,774 ADSL subscribers, with the remainder using wireless broadband networks. Wireless Business Solutions (WBS) launched the iBurst system in South Africa in late 2004, and had a subscriber base of 45,000 by July 2007, up from 2,500 subscribers by February 2005. Sentech had about 4,000 MyWireless subscribers in 2007, up from 2,500 in 2006.
Dial-up subscribers are migrating to broadband, and then escalating to higher-bandwidth packages as they become available.
South Africa's total international bandwidth reached the 10 Gbit/s mark during 2008, and its continued increase is being driven primarily by the uptake of broadband and lowering of tariffs.
South Africa's internet user base is projected to reach 9 million users by 2014.
Broadband in South Africa
The first ADSL package, a 512/256 kbit/s offering, was introduced in August 2002 by national telecoms monopoly Telkom. Later, in response to growing demand for cheaper ADSL options, two more products were introduced: a mid-range 384/128 kbit/s offering, and an entry-level 192/64 kbit/s one. On 1 September 2005 Telkom released its 1 Mbit/s offering. In late 2006, Telkom commenced with trials for 4 Mbit/s ADSL. They also began phasing out their 192 kbit/s offering, upgrading subscribers to 384 kbit/s at no extra charge. In May 2008, Neotel launched consumer services, their broadband using CDMA technology.
In late 2009, Telkom began trialling 8 and 12 Mbit/s ADSL offerings. In August 2010, Telkom officially introduced ADSL at 10 Mbit/s. More than 20,000 4Mbit/s subscribers were upgraded free of charge. As of May 2011, Telkom 512/256 kbit/s users were upgraded to 1024/512 kbit/s.
In South Africa ADSL charges consist of three parts: the ADSL line rental (384/128kbit/s R152, 512/256kbit/s R326, 4096/640kbit/s and 10016/1002 R413), the regular analogue phone line rental (R131, which includes a land line number) and an ISP account. The price of an ISP account can vary greatly, ranging from R23 (US$3) for 1 GB to R159 ($21) for uncapped 384kbit/s and R496 (US$61) for uncapped 4 Mbit/s. Products with caps of 3 GB, 5 GB, 10 GB, 20 GB and 30 GB are also available through various ISPs.
ADSL prices in South Africa have been decreasing steadily since the service was introduced, mainly as result of competition from mobile network operators, but also due to the landing of the SEACOM cable. Previously the sole undersea cable to land in South Africa was the Telkom-operated SAT-3. Telkom's own ADSL subscriber base climbed from 50,000 in February 2005 to around 550 000 in July 2009. However, relative to developed markets, ADSL prices in South Africa still remain among the highest in the world which has prompted consumer groups such as Hellkom and MyADSL to charge that Telkom's ADSL prices are excessive. In terms of speed, a report by, Akamai: The State of the Internet for 2010, showed that South Africa was one of 86 countries which had an average connection speed below 1 Mbit/s, which is below the global average broadband threshold of 2 Mbit/s.
Wireless in South Africa
A number of companies offer broadband alternatives. Iburst offer their namesake, while cellular network company Cell C offer GPRS and EDGE and more recently a 21.1Mbit/s service. MTN and Vodacom also offer 3G with up to 21.1Mbit/s HSDPA+.Telkom offers a 7.2 / 2.4 Mbit/s HSDPA / HSUPA service in Gauteng. Most of these offerings are more expensive than ADSL for mid-to-high usage, but can be cost effective if low usage is required. MTN triggered a mini-price war in late February 2007, offering 2GB for each 1GB bought, with Iburst giving a small "data bonus" to their contract customers and Sentech also reducing their prices. Vodacom responded with dramatic price cuts of their own on 1 April 2007 after which Cell C reduced prices on their larger offerings to undercut both MTN and Vodacom.
Internet hotspots are ubiquitous in hotels, coffee shops, and the like. This enables users---often tourists or people on the move---to easily go online without having to enter into a fixed contract with an ISP. Many hotspots offer usage free of charge.
Until 1 February 2005, the usage of VOIP outside of company networks was illegal under South African communications law, ostensibly to protect jobs. The deregulation of VOIP was announced by Minister of Communications (South Africa) Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri in September 2004.
Dial up Internet
Legislation and licensing
The South African government passed the Electronic Communications Act in 2006 and is dramatically restructuring the sector towards a converged framework, converting vertically integrated licenses previously granted to PSTN, mobile, USAL, PTN and VANS operators into new Electronic Communications Network Services (ECNS), Electronic Communications Services (ECS), or broadcasting licenses. In January 2009, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) granted ECS and ECNS licenses to over 500 VANS operators.
The South African market is in the process of being dramatically restructured, moving away from old-style, vertically-integrated segments under the 1996 Telecommunications Act and 2001 Telecommunications Amendment Act towards horizontal service layers, and the new-style licensing regime is being converted to accommodate this. This process involves the conversion of pre-existing licenses into new Individual or Class Electronic Communications Network Services (ECNS), Electronic Communications Services (ECS), or broadcasting licenses. Licenses are also required for radio frequency spectrum, except for very low power devices.
ICASA granted ECNS licenses during December 2007 to seven new under-serviced area licenses (USAL) operators. The new licensees include PlatiTel, Ilembe Communications, Metsweding Telex, Dinaka Telecoms, Mitjodi Telecoms, and Nyakatho Telecoms.
The South African market is split into two main tiers: top-tier internet access providers; and downstream retail ISPs. ISPs are licensed as value-added network service (VANS) providers, although under the Electronic Communications Act of 2006, these licenses were converted in January 2009 to individual or class electronic communication service (ECS) licenses. All domestic ISPs gain international connectivity through one of the internet access providers: SAIX (Telkom), Neotel, Verizon Business, Internet Solutions (IS), MTN Network Solutions, DataPro and Posix Systems.
Following the deregulation of the VANS industry in South Africa, a number of leading operators have diversified from being a top-tier ISP to becoming a converged communications service provider offering a range of voice and data services, particularly VoIP, through the conversion of VANS licenses into ECS licenses.
With delays to local loop unbundling (LLU), which would give ISPs access to exchanges, operators are deploying a range of broadband wireless networks. While the mobile operators are deploying HSDPA, W-CDMA and EDGE networks and entering the broadband space, operators are also deploying WiMAX, iBurst, and CDMA systems. Telkom, Sentech, Neotel, WBS and the under-serviced areas licensees (USALs) have currently been given commercial WiMAX licenses. Telkom launched full commercial WiMAX services in June 2007, first at 14 sites in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban, and a further 57 sites are planned for 2007/8. Another 10 operators, including M-Web and Vodacom, were granted temporary test licenses and are awaiting spectrum to be allocated by ICASA. In May 2008, WBS partnered with Vodacom and Intel Corporation to roll out an 802.16e WiMAX network.
South Africa's total international bandwidth reached the 10 Gbit/s mark during 2008, and its continued increase is being driven primarily by the uptake of broadband and lowering of tariffs. Three new submarine cable projects have brought more capacity to South Africa from 2009---the SEACOM cable entered service in June 2009 and supply contracts have been awarded for both the EASSy and WACS cables.
The key upcoming development is that supply contracts have been awarded for three submarine cables that will land or have already landed in South Arica—SEACOM, EASSy, WACS and the recently proposed South Atlantic Express cable. The data sector is a key area for growth in both the corporate data and residential data markets.
Active and proposed cable systems
As of 2011, South Africa is served by four submarine communication cables. The WACS cable system is expected to enter commercial use in the first quarter of 2012. Another two cables, SAex and ACE, have been proposed. The SAex cable system is expected to provide the shortest route possible to the Americas, if constructed.
Active cable systems
- SAT-2: SAT-2 was the first submarine cable to be constructed to enable commercial and private use of the internet. It replaced the original SAT-1 cable and has been operational since 1993.
- SAT-3/WASC/SAFE: The SAT-3/WASC/SAFE cable system became operational in 2001, providing the first links to Europe for West African internet users and for South African users, taking up service from SAT-2 which was reaching maximum capacity. The SAFE cable system, which was commissioned in 2002, links South Africa to the Asian continent, with landing points at India and Malaysia.
- SEACOM: The SEACOM submarine cable landing at Mombasa, entered commercial service in June 2009. The cable runs from South Africa to Egypt via Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Djibouti and Saudi Arabia, connecting eastwards through to India and westwards through the Mediterranean.
- East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy): The EASSy cable system runs from South Africa (Mtunzini) to Egypt via Mombasa (Kenya) and other East African countries. The cable runs as far north as Djibouti and Port Sudan, with onward connectivity to Europe provided by the Europe India Gateway (EIG) cable. In March 2007, a 23-member consortium behind EASSy signed a supply contract with Alcatel-Lucent which led to the construction of the cable.
Cable systems not yet operational or proposed
- West African Cable System (WACS): The West African Cable System is a 14,000 kilometre cable that provides connectivity between South Africa, Portugal and the United Kingdom via 11 other African countries. In April 2009, the WACS consortium signed a construction and maintenance agreement, and awarded a supply contract to Alcatel-Lucent for the cable. With a minimum design capacity of 3.84 Terabit/s, WACS connects South Africa to the United Kingdom with landing points in 12 countries: Namibia, Angola, DRC, Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Cape Verde, the Canary Islands, and Portugal. The WACS consortium comprises 11 parties: Angola Telecom, Broadband Infraco (see below), Cable & Wireless, MTN, Portugal Telecom, Sotelco, Tata Communications, Telecom Namibia, Telkom SA, Togo Telecom and Vodacom. The cable is expected to be ready for service during 2011.
- Main One:The Main One cable system is being designed in two phases. The first phase linked Ghana and Nigeria to Portugal and became operation in July 2010.: Phase two of the project will provide additional internet capacity to South Africa and other countries on the west African coast.
- ACE (Africa Coast to Europe): The ACE cable system is a proposed submarine cable which would be 17,000 kilometres in length and which would be capable of supporting an overall potential capacity of 5.12Tbit/s using wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) technology. It will connect 23 countries either directly for coastal countries or indirectly through terrestrial links for landlocked countries, like Mali and Niger.
- SAex (South Atlantic Express): The SAex cable is another proposed submarine communications cable which would link South Africa and Angola to Brazil with onward connectivity to the United States that will connect to the existing GlobeNet cable system. The project was announced in 2011 following a BRICS summit and a memorandum of understanding signed by its members. The project, if realized, will enable the shortest route possible to the Americas reducing latency and bandwidth costs. Currently, America bound South Africa internet traffic routes through Europe, incurring the said latency and bandwidth costs. If constructed, the cable will have the largest design capacity (12.8 Tbit/s) of any other cable servicing the African continent.
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- 12 Mbps ADSL upgrades trialed
- Telkom SA#Criticisms
- South African ADSL market size
- Muller, Rudolph (26 January 2011). "State of South Africa's Internet". MyBroadband.co.za. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
- MTN 3.6 Mbps HSDPA here
- IOL Technology
- MainOne cable company Project Room
- Reporters Without Borders article
- Texts of South African laws about the Internet
- Internet Service Providers' Association
- Namespace ZA
- Online magazine about new technology
- SA Internet and Broadband News
- SA Broadband Comparison Site