Rapid growth in broadband penetration is starting to transform the way that South Africans use the Internet, with consumers beginning to use richer services and applications more extensively than they did two years ago
That’s the word from Tim Walter, Executive Head of Marketing at Nashua Mobile. He says that the Internet is no longer just about Web browsing, online banking and email – consumers are also starting to download media, share videos, and play more games online.
The reason for this is that years of deregulation and infrastructure build-outs have started to bear fruit for the technology industry. All of a sudden, there’s plenty of international bandwidth from the new undersea cables that have landed over the past two years, more national fibre links, and fiercer competition for the consumer’s spend.
Walter says that the arrival of the first uncapped broadband ADSL accounts in 2010 marked the beginning of South Africa’s shift from expensive, scarce bandwidth to more affordable high-speed connectivity. Mobile broadband services have also advanced in recent years, with prices dropping rapidly, and operators stepping up their rollout of HSPA+ and other high-speed data services.
Today, South Africa has 3.7 million broadband subscribers, of which 2.6 million use mobile technologies, according to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers Southern Africa.
However, Walter notes that most Internet users in South Africa are still predominantly middle-class, urban and older than 35 years of age. That means there is still plenty of scope for broadband services to be extended to people with less disposable income.
“Urban users have the pick of the best services – Wi-Fi, ADSL and HSPA+. Many use ADSL at home for entertainment and mobile broadband from their smartphones, tablets and notebooks on the road,” Walter says. “The challenge is to extend these services to more people.”
Walter says that Telkom is stepping up ADSL rollouts with a view to reaching more people. But in the longer term, it will be high-speed mobile technologies such as long term evolution (LTE) that will move the market.
LTE offers download speeds of at least 100Mb/s and uploads of at least 50 Mb/s, as well as lower latencies. It will be key to bringing richer services such as video to parts of the country with poor or no fixed-line infrastructure. South African operators such as MTN are currently piloting LTE services, with a view to rolling them out as soon as they can access the spectrum they need to do so.
Concludes Walter: “With the rapid improvement of South Africa’s broadband infrastructure and a decline in prices, we can expect to see a number of innovative services starting to reach the market. Video-on-demand, for example, is on the horizon. South Africa is slowly beginning to enjoy access to the same services Internet users in other parts of the world already take for granted.”