Internet Solutions – South Africa’s first corporate Internet service provider (ISP) – turned 20 on 18 October, and predicts exponential growth for the Internet in South Africa and Africa.

“Looking back at the fact that we made it possible for South African enterprises to connect and, therefore, compete at a global level, we believe that we’ve helped shape an industry that now makes a significant contribution to the economy,” says Saki Missaikos, Internet Solutions’ MD.

“While that’s quite an achievement, it also imposes a tremendous responsibility, in that we have to ensure that South Africa continues to use the Internet to its advantage at all levels of society. Technology, particularly communications technology, has changed the way the world functions. It has passed power from the few to the many, not simply in ideological terms but in practical, day-to-day, grassroots ways.

“We agree with recent international moves towards declaring access to the Internet a basic human right. We call it the fourth utility. It’s as vital to society’s productive functioning as electricity, water, and sanitation.

“But, Internet penetration in South Africa stands at no more than 18%. So, there’s an immense amount of work still to do. It’s critical that it be handled responsibly.

“Our experience of the past two decades and our relationship with Dimension Data and, through them, with the world’s second largest telecoms operator – which gives us access to international best practice and early indicators of important trends – positions us to be part of responsible growth of the Internet in South Africa.”

When Internet Solutions was founded in 1993, there were fewer than one million GSM mobile phone subscribers globally. The world’s first SMS had been sent only the year before. Revolutionary Internet platforms and brands, such as Yahoo, Google, Amazon, You Tube, Facebook, and Twitter had not yet been invented.

However, three young students from Wits University, Ronnie Apteker, Thomas McWalter and Philip Green, had encountered the Internet as part of their studies and had a vision of how it could be applied in a business setting.

Using the university’s archaic computer terminals linked to slow modems had proved frustrating. The students leaped at the idea of the Internet, which offered a permanent, high-speed way of connecting to a world of unlimited information.

Joined by David Frankel, they founded Internet Solutions and began approaching large businesses, selling them on the benefits of connectivity. Their audacity paid off when they landed Prices Forbes (now Alexander Forbes) as a client. Today, Internet Solutions has most of South Africa’s large organisations as its clients, along with many smaller ISPs who offer consumer connectivity solutions.

Internet Solutions has always maintained its ethos of enabling organisations to operate more effectively and, overall, making a society a better place. It has done so through staying ahead of technology curves in terms of its own network backbone but also by recruiting the best and most adventurous minds in the business.

Missaikos was one of the company’s first recruits and attracted the founders’ attention because he had written a thesis on what was then a new technology, TCP/IP, and went on to become the standard for Internet connectivity.

“In essence, we started by pioneering the architecture of South Africa’s Internet and have continued to push the boundaries ever since,” Missaikos says.

“We’re certainly not going to stop now. In fact, because we believe that the Internet is the most streamlined and fastest way to close the gap between underdeveloped and developed markets, we will be focusing on enabling not just South Africa but the rest of the continent to move affordably to the future of the Internet: cloud computing, mobility, and, eventually, the everywhere network.”