South Africa is at the beginning an exponential growth curve in its Internet capacity, and this is already translating into a significantly higher number of users.
This is one of the findings of World Wide Worx's latest survey "Internet Access in South Africa 2010", conducted in collaboration with Cisco, which demonstrates that the Internet is finally becoming mainstream in South Africa.
While connectivity has traditionally been the preserve of busineses and the elite, World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says it is now starting to penetrate the mass market as well.
"Before 2008 the growth rate was flat," he says. "But, since 2009, we have seen significant continued growth and this will result in the Internet beginning to penetrate the mass market."
Another important trend is that Intenet access is rapidly becoming a "need to have" rather than a "nice to have", Goldstuck adds. "It's got nothing to do with liking IT or not."
Driving the current and future increases in Internet usage is the wealth of new bandwidth capacity now available to South African users.
While total international capacity stood at just 80Gbps at the end of 2008, the arrival of the Seacom cable in East and South Africa, and the TEAMS cable in East Africa has already increased the capacity available in sub-Saharan Africa to 1,69Tbps. With new cables including EASSY, WACS and others due to come online within the next two years, Goldstuck says the total capacity available by 2012 will be about 17,33Tbps – a more than 200-times increase in available bandwidth.
While the cables in and of themselves won't drive down pricing for consumers, Goldstuck points to the number of new service providers that have entered the market – there are now over 700, an 18% increase from 2008 – that are helping to spur competition, which is leading to price drops.
While the number of Internet users is growing, Goldstuck cautions that some studies count the same users multiple times, mainly because some 3G subscribers use their mobile broadband connections as a secondary access option, often having ADSL or the corporate network as their primary source.
That said, SMEs are helping to drive new users, with this market adding about 756 000 additional users, apart from the primary subscriber.
Stripping out duplicate users, South Africa can reliably count 5,3-million individual Internet users, a number that is conseratively expected to reach10,9-million by 2015 – and Goldtuck believes the 10-million mark could even be reached in 2014.
Mobile access and schools are expected to be major engines for growth in the next couple of years, but better availability and a more attractive experience will also contribute.
"From 2008 onwards we are seeing dramatic growth – easily the most dramatic growth of the Internet ever in South Africa – and it will be sustained," says Goldstuck. "All the cables have been laid, and it will be like opening up a dam's sluice gates into a dry riverbed.
"In addition, there is a new national fibre grid currently being laid by Neotel and MTN due to come online this year and this will start feeing into the national grid. Then there are the urban fibre grids, which will also be making a dramatic impact starting from this year."