Should you go on to any of the big South African Internet Service Provider (ISP) websites there will undoubtedly be a link to one of their ‘fast internet’ service offerings. To put the term ‘fast’ into perspective, 384kbps is guaranteed on most of the ADSL services, with anything above this an added bonus, and one which you shouldn’t complain about. You could after all be downgraded to dial-up!
For anyone who has not ventured outside the borders of South Africa in their lifetime, the internet reached ‘blazing fast’ and heady heights for the rest of the developed world at around the turn of the millennium. On one particular UK-based broadband provider site, the slowest service which you can now purchase is 10 Megs (Mbps) for under R200 per month (no typo here!).
In terms of the internet, South Africa is definitely on the back foot and a few further paces behind due to the fact that until 2006, there was only one licensed provider of fixed line telecommunications within the country. The industry has since been deregulated and other companies have been free to install their own fixed line networks, in many cases overlapping with the previously installed networks.
The ADSL services which are currently on offer rely heavily on the previously established national network of copper cabling. This is of course where the cabling is still intact and hasn’t already been removed by locals who try to salvage the copper for its scrap metal value – I kid you not!
The country’s mobile 3G service is slightly better and more stable, and trundles along quite happily for non-taxing data applications…most of the time. Smooth streaming of video, internet radio and even skype can however be problematics at times during network ‘rush hours’. As with fixed line ADSL services however, the cost of a capped data bundle service is not something which can be labelled as ‘cheap’, or ‘good value for money’ in today’s modern age of technology.
Uncapped fixed line ADSL data bundles are available from one well known ISP, however line rental, payable to the infrastructure owner, represent approximately 40% of the total amount of your monthly telephone bill spend (for the 384kbps service) and just under 20% for the 10Mbps service. A ‘10Mb service is not bad’, I hear you proclaim, however these speeds are not guaranteed and you pay upwards of R2000 (£200!!) per month for the benefits of this faster service and whilst there are slightly better things one can spend their hard-earned money on, this service can remain (for me at least) ‘optional’.
Fibre is on its way however and a number of undersea comms cables have made landfall in South Africa. News articles crop up in the national press every so often, with accompanying claims that network capacities will be expanded multiple-fold, surfing speeds upped and prices for data services downed. Fibre networks within the country are still being developed and ‘dark fibre’ networks are set to revolutionise the way the country’s fixed line services are used, with operators encouraged to share the initial costs of the infrastructure installation for a mutually beneficial out, i.e. once installed there will be little or no strategic advantage to one company owning the fibre network. This in theory this should bring the cost of ‘fast’ internet services down – happy days!
Dark fibre is currently being installed in the business park where I now work, however is not currently operational. According to the website however, all registered service providers will be able to offer residents ‘special high speed multi-service communications’. Hopefully some thought-process has gone into these special service provisions by the service provides and that an equally special pricing structure is to accompany the services launch.
For the Average-Joe home internet user however, the wait for the benefits of fibre comms will inevitably be slightly longer (my online Wii gaming days will have to remain on the back-burner for now).