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 (ccTLD)[1] .za is managed and regulated by the .za Domain Name Authority (.ZADNA) and was granted to South Africa by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 1990. Over 60% of Internet traffic generated on the African continent originates from South Africa. As of July 2016, 29.3 million people (54.00% of the total population) were Internet users.[2]

History of the Internet in South Africa[edit]

The first South African IP address was granted to Rhodes University in 1988.[3] On 12 November 1991, the first IP connection was made between Rhodes' computing centre and the home of Randy Bush in Portland, Oregon.[4] 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[5] with the registration of the first subdomain. The African National Congress, South Africa's governing political party, launched its website,, in 1997, making it one of the first African political organizations to establish an Internet presence;[6] around the same time, the Freedom Front Plus (Afrikaans: Vryheidsfront Plus)[7] registered[8]


Internet users in South Africa showing penetration as a percentage of Internet users in the population
Internet users by region
  2005 2010 2017 2019a
Africa       2%             10%             21.8%             28.2%      
Americas 36% 49% 65.9% 77.2%
Arab States 8% 26% 43.7% 51.6%
Asia and Pacific 9% 23% 43.9% 48.4%
Commonwealth of
Independent States
Europe 46% 67% 79.6% 82.5%
a Estimate.
Source: International Telecommunication Union.[9]

The Internet user base in South Africa increased from 2.4 million (5.35%) in 2000, to 5 million (8.43%) in 2008,[10][11] to 12.3 million (41%) in 2012, and 29.3 million in 2016.[12][11] This represented 54.00% of the South African population in 2016.[11] This is the highest penetration for all African countries second to Morocco (58.27%),[11] is well above the figure of 19.9% for Africa as a whole, and is comparable with the figure of 39.0% for developing countries worldwide.[13]

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[14] and 12.7 million wireless broadband subscribers.[15]

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 active and proposed cable systems below).[citation needed]

Broadband in South Africa[edit]


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. Telkom 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.[citation needed]

In late 2009, Telkom began trialling 8 and 12 Mbit/s ADSL offerings.[16] 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 October 2018, fixed line DSL speeds on offer range between 2 Mbit/s to 40 Mbit/s.[17][18]

Fibre to the home (FTTH)[edit]

Currently Openserve (a division of Telkom), Vumatel, Frogfoot Networks, and Octotel are rolling out fibre to the home (FTTH) networks across major cities and towns.[citation needed]

There are also about a dozen other small providers rolling out mostly to gated estates and neighbourhoods. These networks are open access wholesale last mile networks meaning that you have to purchase a package from an internet service provider (ISP) such as Vox, Webafrica, Axxess, or Telkom. Openserve, which is 51.4% government-owned, currently has the largest footprint covering areas in many smaller cities and towns that include Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, and Knysna. Most of these providers also offer additional high-end business services such as web hosting. The rollout has been rapid. Speeds range from 4/1 Mbit/s to 1000/1000 Mbit/s. A 100/50 Mbit/s plan will cost R1000 to R1399 (US$69.21 to $96.83) depending on providers available in area and size of data package. An unlimited 1 Gbit/s/1 Gbit/s plan will cost around R1700 ($117.66) so prices are still somewhat expensive when compared to other countries with FTTH but prices have been continually falling throughout the rollout. Comparatively, Google Fiber charges consumers $70 for an unlimited (uncapped) 1000/400 Mbit/s in the US.[citation needed]

Vumatel are currently rolling out FTTH to townships. They are starting with a trial in Alexandra, Gauteng which if successful will be expanded to other areas such as Diepsloot and Soweto. Vumatel have stated that they will be providing a 100/100 Mbit/s plan for R89 ($6.16) in these areas. They hope to undercut mobile operators, as many people rely on mobile data only in these areas.[citation needed]

Currently, deployed fibre technology is predominantly GPON (Openserve, Frogfoot networks, Octotel), while some other installations use active fibre (Vumatel). There is no central coordinating authority; as a result many high income areas are over-served by multiple providers. Openserve and Vumatel signed an agreement to coordinate efforts in order to better distribute network infrastructure.[citation needed]

Wireless broadband[edit]

There is a distinction between wireless broadband and mobile broadband, the local GSM operators (and their surrogates) provide GSM (up to LTE) broadband.[citation needed]

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 21.1 Mbit/s service. MTN and Vodacom also offer 3G with up to 21.1 Mbit/s HSDPA+.[19][20] Telkom offers a 7.2/2.4 Mbit/s HSDPA/HSUPA service in Gauteng.[21] 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 price war in late February 2007, offering 2 GB for each 1 GB bought,[22] 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.[citation needed]

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, though frequently only after registration and/or for a limited amount of time or data.[citation needed]

Voice over Internet protocol (VOIP)[edit]

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 former Minister of Communications Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri in September 2004.[citation needed]


Broadband services are well above the world average.[23] Charges consist of three parts: the ADSL line rental (costs range from R169 for 2 Mbit/s, R389 for 8Mbit/s, and R555 for 40Mbit/s line access),[24] the analogue phone line rental (R157, as of August 2013,[24] which includes a landline number) and an ISP account. The price of an ISP account can vary greatly, ranging from R109 ($7.54) for 100 GB to R4099 ($283.7) for 4 TB. Uncapped 1 Mbit/s ISP accounts start at R57 ($3.95) and can range up to R817 ($56.55) for uncapped 40 Mbit/s.

ADSL Pricing[edit]

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 58,532 in February 2005 to around 548,015 in July 2009.[25][26][27] ADSL broadband prices began to drop significantly when Afrihost entered the market at R29 ($2.01) per gigabyte in August 2009, forcing other ISPs to lower their prices.[28] Since then, thanks to more ISPs entering the market, the price for data has decreased – in February 2014, Webafrica started offering ADSL from R1.50 ($0.1) per GB.[29] 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.[30]

Fibre Pricing[edit]

There are over 15 fibre networks in South Africa and the pricing is not standardised across all networks for the same packages in terms of speed and data allowance.

The three biggest fibre networks in South Africa has the following average pricing for 10Mbps Uncapped according to the popular fibre and LTE price comparison website[31]

Average Price For 10 Mbps Uncapped Fibre As Of Jan 2020
Network Average Price(ZAR) Source
Openserve R682
Vumatel R716
Frogfoot R655

LTE Pricing[edit]

The main LTE networks are from the mobile operators Vodacom, MTN and Telkom and are mostly 3G and 4G. There is also a wireless retail ISP named Rain[32] that has one of the 5G licenses in South Africa. They roam on the Vodacom mobile network for 4G.

The pricing for a LTE 40GB data package starts at around R250 per month.[31]


So far, Vodacom[33] and MTN[34] have announced plans to release 5G in Johannesburg and Cape Town.[35] With Plans to also Release 5G in Durban, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.

Dial up Internet[edit]

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.[citation needed]

There was also BelTel - a (mostly business) service available via subscription. It could be used via Minitel terminals, and gave access to banking services, Telkom directory services, and local chat groups.

Legislation and licensing[edit]

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 public switched telephone network (PSTN), mobile, underserved area licenses (USAL), PTN and value-added network service (VANS) operators into new Electronic Communications Network Services (ECNS), Electronic Communications Services (ECS), or broadcasting licenses. In January 2009, the ICASA granted ECS and ECNS licenses to over 500 VANS operators.[citation needed]

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" ECNS, ECS, or broadcasting licenses. Licenses are also required for radio frequency spectrum, except for very low power devices.[citation needed]

ICASA granted ECNS licenses during December 2007 to seven new USAL operators. The new licensees include PlatiTel, Ilembe Communications, Metsweding Telex, Dinaka Telecoms, Mitjodi Telecoms, and Nyakatho Telecoms.[citation needed]

The South African market is split into two main tiers: top-tier Internet access providers; and downstream retail ISPs. ISPs are licensed as 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Active and proposed cable systems[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Active cable systems[edit]

  • South Atlantic 2 (SAT-2): SAT-2 was the first submarine cable to be constructed to enable commercial and private use of the Internet. It replaced the original SAT-1 cable, operates at 560 Mbit/s, and has been operational since 1993.[36]
  • South Atlantic 3/West Africa Submarine Cable/South Africa Far East (SAT-3/WASC/SAFE): SAT-3/WASC, a 14,350 km-long 340 Gbit/s cable system, became operational in 2001, providing the first links to Europe for West African and South African Internet users, taking up service from SAT-2 which was reaching maximum capacity. The SAFE cable system, a 13,500 km-long 440 Gbit/s system, was commissioned in 2002 and links South Africa to the Asian continent, with landing points at India and Malaysia.[37]
  • SEACOM: The SEACOM submarine cable landing at Mombasa, entered commercial service in June 2009.[38] The cable runs from South Africa to Egypt via Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Djibouti and Saudi Arabia, connecting eastwards through to India and westwards through the Mediterranean. It initially operated at 640 Gbit/s in 2009, was upgraded to 2.6 Tbit/s in 2012, with further upgrades during 2013.[39][40][41]
  • East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy): The EASSy cable system entered service during July 2010.[42] The 4.72 Tbit/s system runs from South Africa (Mtunzini) to Egypt via Mombasa (Kenya) and other African Great Lakes countries. The cable runs as far north as Djibouti and Port Sudan in Northeast Africa, with onward connectivity to Europe provided by the Europe India Gateway (EIG) cable. In March 2007, a 23-member consortium behind EASSy signed a supply contract with Alcatel-Lucent which led to the construction of the cable.[43]
  • West African Cable System (WACS): The WACS is a 14,000 km-long cable that provides 5.12 Tbit/s of bandwidth between South Africa, 11 other West African countries, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. In April 2009, the WACS consortium signed a construction and maintenance agreement in April 2009 and the cable became operational in May 2012.[44]

Proposed cable systems[edit]

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

  • Main One: The Main One cable system, a 14,000 km-long system with a capacity of 1.92 Tbit/s, is being delivered in two phases. The first phase linked Ghana and Nigeria to Portugal and became operational in July 2010.[45][46] Phase two of the project will provide additional Internet capacity to South Africa and other countries on the west African coast.[when?]
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe): The ACE cable system is a 17,000 km-long submarine cable capable of supporting an overall potential capacity of 5.12Tbit/s using wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) technology. When complete it will connect 23 countries either directly for coastal countries or indirectly through terrestrial links for landlocked countries, such as Mali and Niger. The first phase of the system was put into service on 15 December 2012.[47] ACE is expected to reach South Africa in 2013.[needs update]
  • SAex (South Atlantic Express): The SAex cable is a proposed submarine communications cable which would link South Africa and Angola to Brazil with onward connectivity to the United States that will connect to the existing GlobeNet cable system. The project was announced in 2011 following a BRICS summit and a memorandum of understanding signed by its members. The project, if realized, will enable the shortest route possible to the Americas reducing latency and bandwidth costs. Currently, America bound South Africa Internet traffic routes through Europe, incurring the said latency and bandwidth costs. If constructed, the cable will have the largest design capacity (12.8 Tbit/s) of any other cable servicing the African continent.[48][49]
  • BRICS Cable: A proposed 34,000 km-long, 12.8 Tbit/s capacity, fibre optic cable system that would link Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil (the BRICS economies), and the United States as well as interconnecting regional and other continental cable systems in Asia, Africa, and South America for improved global coverage. Target date for completion is mid to late 2015.[50][51]
  • WASACE: WASACE Cable is a proposed 29,000 km-long, 40 to 60 Tbit/s capacity, fibre optic cable system. When complete it would link four continents (South Africa to Nigeria via Angola, Nigeria to Brazil, Brazil to the United States, and the United States to Spain) and be interconnected to the SEACOM cable system. Network development will be staged with the Africa and Americas portions of the system targeted to be available in the first quarter of 2014 and with the Europe portion to follow.[52][53]


The South African National Research and Education Network (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 ATLAS experiment hosted at CERN in Geneva, and will enable global access to the Square Kilometre Array radio astronomy project co-hosted in South Africa and Australia.

Internet censorship[edit]

Internet censorship in South Africa is not individually classified by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), but South Africa is included in ONI's regional overview for sub-Saharan Africa.[54]

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".[55]

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.[55]

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.[citation needed]

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.[55]

South Africa participates in regional efforts to combat cybercrime. The East African Community (consisting of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC; consisting of Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) have both enacted plans to standardise cybercrime laws throughout their regions.[54]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]