Internet in South Africa

The Internet in South Africa, one of the most technologically resourced countries on the African continent, is expanding. 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.[1] On 12 November 1991, the first IP connection was made between Rhodes' computing centre and the home of Randy Bush in Portland, Oregon.[2] 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[3] with the registration of the first subdomain. The African National Congress, launched its website,, in 1997, making it one of the first African political organizations to establish an Internet presence[4] around the time that the Freedom Front Plus (Vryheidsfront Plus)[5] registered[6]


Internet users in South Africa showing penetration as a percentage of Internet users in the population.
Internet users by region
  2005 2010 2014a
Africa       2%             10%             19%      
Americas 36% 49% 65%
Arab States 8% 26% 41%
Asia and Pacific 9% 23% 32%
Commonwealth of
Independent States
Europe 46% 67% 75%
a Estimate.
Source: International Telecommunications Union.[7]

The Internet user base in South Africa increased from 2.4 million in 2000, to 5 million in 2008,[8] and to 12.3 million in 2012. This represents 34% of the South African population in 2012.[9] This is the highest penetration for all African countries except for Morocco (55%) and Egypt (44%),[10] is well above the figure of 16% for Africa as a whole, and is comparable with the figure of 31% for developing countries worldwide.[11]

The total number of wireless broadband subscribers overtook that of fixed line broadband subscribers in South Africa during 2007. In 2012 there were 1.1 million fixed line broadband subscribers[12] and 12.7 million wireless broadband subscribers.[13]

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, the EASSy cable in July 2010, and the WACS cable in May 2012. Additional international cable systems have been proposed or are under construction. For details see the "Active and proposed cable systems" section below.

Broadband in South Africa

Fixed broadband

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.[14] 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 November 2013, Fixed line DSL speeds on offer range between 2 Mbit/s to 40 Mbit/s.[15]

Wireless broadband

There is a differentiation between wireless broadband and mobile broadband, the local GSM operators (and their surrogates) provide GSM (up to LTE) broadband.

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+.[16][17] Telkom offers a 7.2 / 2.4 Mbit/s HSDPA / HSUPA service in Gauteng.[18] 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,[19] 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.

Voice over Internet protocol (VOIP)

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 Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri in September 2004.


In South Africa ADSL is very expensive with prices well above world average. Charges consist of three parts: the ADSL line rental (Costs are R165 for a 2Mbit/s "Fast" line, R299 for a 4Mbit/s "Faster", and R425 for the 10Mbit/s "Fastest" line[20]), the regular analogue phone line rental (R157, as of August 2013,[20] 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 927 000 in July 2009.[21][22][23] ADSL Broadband prices began to drop significantly when Afrihost entered the market at R29 per GB in August 2009, forcing other ISPs to lower their prices.[24] Since then, thanks to more ISPs entering the market, the price for data has decreased - in February 2014 Web Africa started offering ADSL from R1.50 per GB.[25] 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.[26]

Dial up Internet

Dial-up subscribers are migrating to broadband, and then escalating to higher-bandwidth packages as they become available. However, Broadband technologies are not universally available and many customers still connect to the Internet using a dial-up modem or an ISDN T/A connection.

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 rolled out over 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.

Active and proposed cable systems

Active submarine cables servicing the African continent
The purple line represents the most recent system, WACS. The width of a line is proportional to the design capacity of each cable. Map created in July 2009 with projections for 2011. Source: "African Undersea Cables".[27]

As of 2013, South Africa is served by five submarine communication cables, SAT-2, SAT-3 / WASC / SAFE, SEACOM, EASSy, and WACS. Another five cables, Main One, SAex, ACE, BRICS, and WASACE, have been proposed or are under construction, but are not yet operational in South Africa.

Active cable systems

Proposed cable systems

The following systems have been proposed or are under construction, but are not yet operational in South Africa:

SANReN (South African National Research and Education Network)

The SANReN provides dedicated bandwidth capacity to more than a 100 university campuses, research institutes, museums and scientific organisations in South Africa. This is the foundation for collaborative research with academics and scientists on the African continent and across continents. The SANReN enables the participation of South African scientists and postgraduate students in global research, such as the high energy physics project, the ATLAS experiment, hosted at CERN in Geneva.

Internet censorship

Internet filtering in South Africa is not individually classified by the OpenNet Initiative, but South Africa is included in ONI's regional overview for sub-Saharan Africa.[46]

Digital media freedom is generally respected in South Africa. Political content is not censored, and neither bloggers nor content creators are targeted for their online activities. In 2013 Freedom House rated South Africa's "Internet Freedom Status" as "Free".[47]

In September 2012, the Constitutional Court upheld a ruling that prescreening publications (including Internet content) as required by the 2009 amendments to the Films and Publications Act of 1996 was an unconstitutional limitation on freedom of expression.[47]

In 2006, the government of South Africa began prohibiting sites hosted in the country from displaying X18 (explicitly sexual) and XXX content (including child pornography and depictions of violent sexual acts); site owners who refuse to comply are punishable under the Film and Publications Act 1996.

Under the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2002 (ECTA), ISPs are required to respond to and implement take-down notices regarding illegal content such as child pornography, defamatory material, and copyright violations. Members of the Internet Service Providers Association are not liable for third-party content they do not create or select, however, they can lose this protection from liability if they do not respond to take-down requests. ISPs often err on the side of caution by taking down content to avoid litigation since there is no incentive for providers to defend the rights of the original content creator, even if they believe the take-down notice was requested in bad faith. There is no existing appeal mechanism for content creators or providers.[47]

South Africa participates in regional efforts to combat cybercrime. The East African Community (consisting of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) and the South African Development Community (consisting of Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) have both enacted plans to standardize cybercrime laws throughout their regions.[46]

See also


  1. Lawrie, Mike. "The History of the Internet in South Africa - How it began" (PDF). Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  2. "20 Years of TCP/IP in South Africa". Rhodes University. 2011. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  3. Barrett, Alan. "Early history of registrations". UNINET. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  4. " archives". African National Congress. Archived from the original on 2 January 1997. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  5. Freedom Front Plus
  6. "The CO.ZA simple whois server". UniForum SA. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  7. ICT Facts and Figures 2005, 2010, 2014, Telecommunication Development Bureau, International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  8. "Internet in South Africa". South Africa Web. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  9. The New Wave: Who connects to the Internet in South Africa, how they connect and what they do when they connect, Indra de Lanerolle, design by Garage East, University of Witwatersrand, 2012. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  10. "Percentage of Individuals using the Internet 2000–2012", International Telecommunications Union (Geneva), June 2013, retrieved 22 June 2013
  11. "Key ICT indicators for developed and developing countries and the world (totals and penetration rates)", International Telecommunications Unions (ITU), Geneva, 27 February 2013
  12. "Fixed (wired)-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants 2012", Dynamic Report, ITU ITC EYE, International Telecommunication Union. Retrieved on 29 June 2013.
  13. "Active mobile-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants 2012", Dynamic Report, ITU ITC EYE, International Telecommunication Union. Retrieved on 29 June 2013.
  14. "12 Mbps ADSL upgrades trialed", Rudolph Muller, MyBroadband, 24 January 2010
  16. MTN 3.6 Mbps HSDPA here, Rudolph Muller, MyBroadband, 24 January 2008
  17. Archived 7 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. IOL Technology, Independent Online
  19. 1 2
  20. Telkom SA#Criticisms, Wikipedia
  21. "South African ADSL market size", Rudolph Muller, MyBroadband, 3 July 2009
  23. "R 29 per GB ADSL offering launched", Rudolph Muller, MyBroadband, 22 September 2009, retrieved 6 June 2013
  24. "Massive capped ADSL price cuts from Web Africa", MyBroadband, 4 February 2014. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  25. Muller, Rudolph (26 January 2011). "State of South Africa's Internet". Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  26. "African Undersea Cables", Steve Song, Many Possibilities, July 2009.
  27. "Section 8.3.8. SAT (South-Atlantic", Repeatered Submarine Fiber Optics Systems, Information Gatekeepers Inc. (IGI) (Boston), 1998, page 76.
  28. "System Information", SAT-3/WASC/SAFE, retrieved 6 June 2013
  29. "Cable makes big promises for African Internet", Diane McCarthy, CNN, 27 July 2009
  30. "Seacom to double capacity", Duncan McLeod, TechCentral, 25 May 2012
  31. "Our Network", SEACOM, retrieved 6 June 2013
  33. "EASSy enters commercial service", Rudolph Muller, MyBroadband, 5 August 2010
  34. "About EASSy", EASSy, retrieved 6 June 2013
  35. "WACS launched in South Africa", MyBroadband, 11 May 2012
  36. "Our Network" and "Network Map", Main One Nigeria, retrieved 6 June 2013
  37. "Underwater cables bring faster internet to West Africa", Christian Purefoy and Teo Kermeliotis, CNN, 10 January 2012
  38. "France Telecom-Orange announces the launch of service for the ACE submarine cable in the first 13 countries", France Telecom-Orange, 19 December 2012
  39. " 16Tbit/s SAEx cable deal signed", Duncan McLeod, TechCentral, 25 October 2012
  40. "Network Project Status", eFive Telecoms, retrieved 6 June 2013
  41. "BRICS cable eyes 2015 completion", BusinessTech (MyBroadband), Gareth Vorster, 21 March 2013
  42. "Network", BRICS Cable, retrieved 6 June 2013
  43. "WASACE Plans Submarine Cable Connecting Africa to Europe, Latin America and North America", IHS Global Insight, 28 November 2011
  44. "WASACE Cable Company is pleased to announce that it has begun the procurement process to select a cable system supplier", Ramón Gil-Roldán, WASACE Cable Company, 8 May 2012
  45. 1 2 "ONI Regional Overview: Sub-Saharan Africa", OpenNet Initiative, September 2009
  46. 1 2 3 "South Africa country report", Freedom on the Net, Freedom House, 2013.
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