Sign Post: Blame Goverment for falling broadband speeds

SIGN POST: Blame government for falling broadband speeds

05-Apr-2015 | Arthur Goldstuck

Despite research indicating that mobile broadband infrastructure is more
robust in South Africa than in the rest of Africa, it is clearly not robust
enough, writes Arthur Goldstuck

STATISTICS showing other African countries racing ahead of South Africa in
internet connectivity mask a less triumphal reality.

While Nigeria, in particular, now has more than four times the number of internet
users as South Africa, it’s a well-known fact that South Africans spend far more on
internet access than Nigerians. This had previously been ascribed by some analysts
to the lower cost of internet access in West Africa.

In Kenya, the rate of growth of internet users has outpaced that in South Africa for
some years, also ostensibly due to lower access costs.

However, a new survey of smartphone usage across five African countries
confirms a long-held suspicion that South Africa’s higher data revenue has more to
do with intensity of usage than cost of usage. Because the quality of infrastructure
is poor in both Nigeria and Kenya, having internet access does not automatically
translate into active internet use.

The Mobile Africa 2015 study, conducted by World Wide Worx and mobile
surveying platform GeoPoll, surveyed 3500 mobile phone users in South Africa,
Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda. At first sight, the data confirmed that Nigeria
has a higher level of internet browsing on phones than South Africa, with 47% of
its phone users cell surfing, compared to 40% in South Africa. Ghana has the
highest adoption, at 51%, while Kenya and Uganda lag behind on 34% and 29%
respectively.

The acid test of mobile internet access and use, however, is the extent to which
mobile apps are downloaded and used. Here, South Africa leads the rest of Africa.
Just more than one-third of South African phone users (34%) use apps, compared
to 31% in Ghana, 28% in Nigeria, 19% in Kenya and 18% in Uganda.
App use translates directly into greater intensity of use, which in turn means mo
re
data is consumed, making it a more lucrative market for mobile operators. They, in
turn, are then able to invest more in infrastructure, which boosts quality of access.
This, finally, improves the online experience and encourages further use.

However, recent statistics from global network monitoring organisation Akamai
show that South Africa’s average broadband speeds declined by almost 10% in the
last quarter, making it the worst performing country of those monitored in Europe,
the Middle East and Africa.

At just 3.2Mbps, it now ranks 87th across these regions. For peak broadband
speeds, it ranks 109th -after falling 12% in the last quarter.

While it’s easy to blame the mobile network operators, the fact that Vodacom, for
example, is now investing R9-billion a year in infrastructure suggests the fault lies
elsewhere. One does not have to look far. Despite making pleasant noises about its
universal broadband strategy, the government and its telecommunications
regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, have now
delayed the issuing of licenses for LTE and 4G broadband spectrum for three
years.

Even WiMax, a high-speed technology Telkom was allowed to roll out seven years
ago, has not yet been opened for licensing to the mobile operators.

So, despite the research indicating that mobile broadband infrastructure is more
robust in South Africa than in the rest of Africa, it is clearly not robust enough.
The high level of usage is despite the government, rather than thanks to it.

• Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za.
Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times

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