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Internet access surprise in South Africa

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Fewer South Africans had fixed-line Internet connections at home in 2020 than in 2019, but more accessed the Internet via a mobile device.

That is according to Statistics South Africa’s latest General Household Survey for 2020, which found around 1.5 million South African households had access to the Internet via a fibre or copper connection at home.

That makes up about 8.3% of the total households in the country, down from the 9.1% (about 1.6 million households) which had access in 2019.

In the Western Cape, one in five households (20.4%) had access to the Internet at home, the most of any province in the country. Gauteng followed with 14.2% of households, then the Northern Cape with 8.2% of households.

The provinces with the lowest number of households with Internet access at home were the North West (1.0%), Mpumalanga (1.3%), and Limpopo (1.5%).

In Gauteng, Free State, Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape, home Internet access increased while declining in the five other provinces.

Metrofibre trenching fibre
Trenching for a fibre network installation in Moreleta Park, Pretoria.

Stats SA’s data appears to contradict conventional wisdom that home Internet access surged nationwide during the Covid-19 pandemic, as companies required staff to work from home.

It is also interesting that fixed lines are in decline despite South Africa’s fibre network boom, with operators like Vumatel, Openserve, Frogfoot, Octotel, Metrofibre, and Cybersmart constantly expanding their footprints.

One possible explanation is that the increase in fibre connectivity has not offset the decline in DSL Internet connections during the same period.

Between September 2019 and September 2020, Telkom lost more than 143,000 fixed broadband customers on its Openserve network.

Telkom has been decommissioning its copper infrastructure and migrating customers to fibre, where the newer broadband technology is available.

In areas where Openserve fibre isn’t available, Telkom offers customers mobile data packages.

Another possible contributing factor to South Africa’s fixed-line decline is that the Covid-19 pandemic hampered fibre network rollouts in 2020.

Internet access in South Africa — Stats SA 2020

While fixed-line broadband declined, Stats SA’s survey found that overall Internet access had increased significantly.

74.1% of households had at least one member who had access to or used the Internet at locations such as their homes, work, place of study, Internet cafés, or at public hot spots, compared to 63.3% in 2019.

Overall, Internet access was the highest in Gauteng, with 85.2% of households, followed by the Western Cape with 80.9%, and Mpumalanga with 77.6%.

Stats SA’s data showed that most South Africans accessed the Internet via a mobile device, such as a smartphone or any device with a 3G-capable SIM card.

While 58.7% of households accessed the Internet via a mobile device in 2019, 64.1% could do so in 2020.

The country’s three biggest mobile networks, Vodacom, MTN, and Telkom, have previously reported big increases in mobile data traffic during the pandemic.

Vodacom and MTN also said their customers’ average mobile data usage increased following significant price cuts in 2020.

The mobile operators claimed the availability of temporary spectrum enabled them to bring down mobile data prices while ensuring their networks performed well.

The table below shows the proportion of households who had access to the Internet via various means in South Africa’s provinces.


Now read: Neighbourhoods with the highest broadband speeds — including one unexpected area


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