Opinion: Blame Government For Falling Broadband Speeds

Opinion: Blame Government For Falling Broadband Speeds

From TimesLive. Story by Arthur Goldstuck.

Statistics show other African countries racing ahead of South Africa in Internet connectivity.

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.

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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 a 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 more 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 9 billion rand ($762.9 million US) 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 issuing 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.

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za.

Read more at TimesLive.