Internet Speeds

South Africa is famous for many reasons; the struggle against apartheid, Nelson Mandela, (and since 2010) our national replica soccer jerseys, the beauty of the natural environment, etc. Unfortunately, our internet infrastructure leaves much to be desired…

In 2009, a race was held between a pigeon and an Internet data transmission using computers and Telkom. It fascinated the country especially since almost everyone was rooting for the bird. Would you believe the bird won with travel time of less than an hour and an upload of another hour as compared to the Telkom service which was only at 4% at the end of 2 hours? Indeed, this wasn’t good news for those who rely on the Internet for business purposes: from online sites selling bank repossessed houses to services advertising on the World Wide Web, the Internet is essential to the survival of companies reliant on it.

Obviously, Telkom had to move heaven and earth to change the perception of consumers for its Internet service and soon, subscribers will be treated to faster service as fibre optic cables become operational.

In the meantime, even with the slow speed (as per international standards), Internet use in South Africa continues to grow. By the end of 2012, experts are predicting an increase of 3.5 million more users compared to last year.

Google did sign a partnership in April of this year with a research company, Basis Research Limited to study the Internet activities in the country. Here are their results:

1. Compared to other African countries, the majority of Internet users in South Africa access their online accounts using their mobile phones. In other African countries, the popularity of cyber cafes was the main access point
2. Across the continent, average usage was approximately between 31 minutes to 120 minutes for PC and a maximum of 30 minutes with the mobile phones
3. The download time in South Africa on the average is a slow 3.18 Mbps; the fastest time was 15.68 Mbps using UniNet followed by MWEB Connect at 14.35 Mbps. The slowest were Vodacom with 3.44 Mbps and Cell C with 3.26 Mbps.

Significant Changes in the Internet to Expect Soon

Aside from the announced upgrade by Telkom to speed up the Internet, there have been other significant developments in the country. For example, i3 Africa will be constructing a FITH network for 6 cities to be completed by 2016. These 6 cities are Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, and Durban. The company will be selling service to third party service providers and will not deal directly with consumers.

Teraco Data Environments will be the host for the Durban Internet Exchange (DINX). This exciting development means that local ISPs will minimize the need to use long distance international links and lower latency and costs for Internet users. Cloud computing will be possible and download/upload speeds will get infinitely better.

E-commerce is expected to grow as the Internet becomes faster and more reliable. In a study though done recently, South Africa is only ranked 6th among other African countries in terms of Internet speed. The country with the fastest average speed is Ghana (5.57 Mbps) followed by Zimbabwe (4.65 Mbps), Kenya (4.46 Mbps), Libya (4.27 Mbps), Madagascar (4.25 Mbps), before we get to South Africa (2.85 or 3.18 Mbps – depending on who did the study).

After the new changes are implemented, many expect South Africa to zoom straight to the top of this list as the African country with the fastest Internet speed.