The number of Internet users in South Africa accelerated dramatically in the past year, thanks to the impact of both smartphones and ordinary mobile phones. As a result, the Internet is finally arriving in the hands of the mass market.
This is the key finding of the Internet Access in South Africa 2012 study, conducted by World Wide Worx and backed by the howzit MSN online portal.
The headline findings, released this week, showed that the South African Internet user base had grown from 6,8-million in 2010 to 8,5-million at the end of 2011 – no less than 25% growth. World Wide Worx also forecast that this strong growth would continue during 2012, and the Internet user base would pass the 10-million mark by the end of the year.
“These findings are a powerful signal that the demand for online content in South Africa is likely to explode in the coming years,” says Justin Zehmke, Executive Producer of howzit MSN.
“The spotlight will not only be on online media, but also on social networking and electronic services in general. As the market grows and matures, we are likely to see a diversification in the landscape that will create space for successful niche media, a greater choice in information sources and a maturation of online services.”
Says Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx: “The Internet has finally awoken, fully, in South Africa. Penetration is now approaching 20%, and for the first time we can see the mass market embracing digital tools on their phones.”
The study uses multiple methodologies, including primary research, interviews with providers, and market intelligence.
The headline findings revealed that a total of 7,9-million South Africans access the Internet on their cell phones. Of these, 2,48-million access it only on their cellphones, and do not have access on the computers. The remaining 6,02-million users access the Internet on computers, laptops, and tablet computers. However, 90% of this number – 5,42-million – also access it on their cellphones. This means that almost 8-million South Africans sometimes or regularly access the Internet on their phones.
“This has huge implications for media and social networks,” says Zehmke. “It means that, in the coming years, all services offered online will also have to be offered on cellphones.”
While smartphones are the main driver of Internet growth, the cost of data use is being driven down by the proliferation of undersea cables connecting sub-Saharan Africa. The study shows that undersea cable capacity to South Africa at the end of 2011 was 2,69 Terabits per second (Tbps), and due to rise to 11,9Tbps by the end of 2012.
”That capacity will double again in 2013,” says Goldstuck. “While the industry position is that it won’t affect prices, such an excess of supply must result in falling prices, which in turn will further drive up demand. The rapid growth we see this year will therefore be maintained through 2013.”