THE FUTURE OF INTERNET IN SOUTH AFRICA

It is a harrowing fact that, despite it being one of our most important technological resources, South Africa still has one of the slowest and most over-priced internet connections on the planet.

Internet access has been proven to improve overall quality of life across the board, from business and education to even improving the ways in which we communicate with each other, which is why it is so shocking that our country has still been playing catch-up in this category for so many years. There has recently been some good news however, as South Africa is set to receive few upgrades in the form of higher internet speeds at lower costs from various sources in the coming years. Let’s investigate the current problems with our internet, as well as these proposed improvements in order to find out what the future holds for the internet in South Africa. 

According to studies done by Business Insider SA and Picodi.com, South Africa currently has some of the most expensive home fibre internet connections of any country, as well as some of the most expensive mobile data, with our prices being undercut even by many developing countries in Africa. The study by Picodi found that out of 233 fibre internet providers from 62 different countries, South Africans pay the most for uncapped fibre connections, with prices surpassing other countries by a considerable amount. For context, at the time of the survey, South Africans pay $0,87 per 1 Mbps. The second closest country is Iceland, whose residents pay $0.69 for the same amount. Russia and Ukraine pay $0.08 and $0.06 per 1 Mbps. The difference is astounding. This stark difference in prices comes mainly from our largest internet providers Vodacom and MTN, who can set their own prices and often overcharge customers due to the almost exclusive monopoly these companies have on South African internet lines. Cellular data bundles also fall under this same fate, with the poorest customers often suffering the biggest losses due to the exponential scaling of the prices of data bundles. Such price increases widen the South African wealth gap and further restricts access to jobs and education, especially since the nationwide increase in remote working and studying brought on by the Covid 19 pandemic. 

The large local internet providers are not solely to blame though. One of the biggest reasons why South African internet is so expensive is basic geography – most large undersea telecommunications cables in Africa come from Europe, meaning that South Africa is simply too far away. All of this is set to change however, as Google’s new subsea Equino cable is currently under construction. According to Google Africa’s managing director, Nitin Gajria, the cable, which will run along Western Coast of Africa, will triple local internet speeds and lead to a price drop of around 21%, which is excellent news for South Africans. The cable will land in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KZN and will purportedly provide internet to the entire country. Google also plans to invest a further $1 billion in Africa in order to promote digital transformation, with an emphasis on supporting small business owners and non-profit organisations. 

Another promising improvement to our country’s digital infrastructure is Elon Musk’s company Starlink, which despite some setbacks is still on its way to South Africa. Unlike traditional internet providers which rely on high-speed optic cables, the Starlink program plans to use an array of low-orbit satellites to beam internet directly to its customers on the ground via an advanced satellite dish. While the service will likely cater to more high-end consumers at higher prices, the competition will undoubtedly put pressure on local service providers to improve their service or risk losing customers to the international tech giant. Current beta testing of the service in countries such as the US and Canada have shown promising results even in remote areas, as the satellites are able to beam to almost anywhere on earth. This is excellent news for many South Africans who live in rural areas where the likelihood of receiving fibre optic cable installations is scarce. 

All this might actually be having you feel slightly optimistic about South Africa’s future, and rightfully so. Improved internet access will have a monumental impact on the economy, with more people than ever having access to education and being able to work remotely or even start a business. Improved communication will also lead to better safety standards, improved service delivery and a more competitive and open free market. It might even lead to some competition for the current local tech giants and their monopoly on internet access. There is still significant room for growth in the South African internet market and the coming years promise to see this goal become a reality. The future of internet in South Africa is bright, so get excited with us. 

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