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Internet 'finally' reaches mass market

The latest findings on Internet access in SA show the country is in for an “Internet explosion”.

The past year marked some significant milestones in terms of the Internet in SA, notably that of mass market adoption – due, largely, to the proliferation of mobile telephony.

According to World Wide Worx's 2012 Internet Access in SA study, the Internet user base in SA grew 25%, from 6.8 million in 2010 to 8.5 million at the end of 2011 – a development underpinned by “the impact of both smartphones and ordinary mobile phones”.

As a result, says World Wide Worx, the Internet is “finally” arriving in the hands of the mass market. This is the key finding of the study, backed by the Howzit MSN online portal and undertaken using multiple methodologies – including primary research, interviews with providers and market intelligence.

Awake at last

With Internet penetration approaching 20%, World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says the Internet has finally awoken “fully” in SA. He says, for the first time, it is evident the mass market is using its phones to engage with digital tools.

The findings revealed that a total of 7.9 million South Africans access the Internet on their cellphones. Of these, 2.48 million do not have access to computers and log on to the Internet only on their cellphones. 

The remaining 6.02 million users, the study shows, access the Internet on computers, laptops and tablets. “However, 90% of this number – 5.42 million – also accesses it on their cellphones. This means that almost eight million South Africans sometimes or regularly access the Internet on their phones.”

According to executive producer of Howzit MSN, Justin Zehmke, the findings have “huge implications” for media and social networks, in that all online services will in future also have to be offered on cellphones.

Imminent explosion

Zehmke says the findings are a “powerful signal” that demand for online content in SA is likely to explode in the coming years. “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.”

World Wide Worx forecasts that the current growth trend will continue during 2012, with the Internet user base passing the 10 million mark by the end of the year. Goldstuck says that, 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 SA at the end of 2011 was 2.69Tbps. “[This is] due to rise to 11.9Tbps by the end of 2012” – and, according to Goldstuck, that capacity will be twice as much in 2013.

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