Mobile connectivity remains essential for South Africa rural communities, with many relying solely on mobile services to connect to the internet.
This is according to latest analysis by mobile analytics company Opensignal, which collected the data between 1 September and 29 November.
South Africa’s mobile connections have surpassed 100%, with GSMA Intelligence data showing mobile connections were equivalent to 187.4% of the total population in January 2023.
However, statistics show that approximately 80% of homes in SA remain unserved by fast and affordable broadband internet.
Opensignal’s findings appear to support the data in the 2023 ICASA State of the ICT Sector Report that reveals only about 10% of the population has access to internet connectivity through fibre or fixed wireless access.
The company analysed the disparities in the mobile experience of its smartphone users between South Africa’s urban, suburban, and rural areas. It also looked at mobile network experience in South African provinces; uncovering differences between them in terms of download speed experience or time with no signal.
The analytics company discovered nearly 23% (22.9%) of the rural areas in the North West see the highest share of mobile-only smartphone users in South Africa to access the internet.
The North West is followed by Free State and Mpumalanga with 17% and 16.9%, respectively. Western Cape is the only province in South Africa where the proportion of mobile-only rural users is below 10%.
Opensignal also analysed the percentage of rural users in these provinces who connect to WiFi services very sporadically – more than 0% and up to 10% of the time – which means they heavily rely on mobile service for the majority of their time. Northern Cape has the highest share of such users 12.6%.
“These figures reveal a strong reliance on mobile services to connect to the internet among significant proportions of rural users in South Africa. According to World Bank statistics, 68% of South Africans live in urban areas, which mean a significant part of the population inhabits less densely populated areas."
“For these people, subscribing to both mobile and fixed services may be either unaffordable or impossible, with no fixed broadband infrastructure available locally, due to high costs of deployment and low anticipated return on investment. This means mobile connectivity is still a key technology to access the internet for many South African rural users for work, education, or entertainment."
“Community-owned networks are one of the potential solutions to advance rural connectivity in South Africa. However, the country’s ongoing struggles with load-shedding, which especially affects rural communities, could potentially jeopardise these efforts, along with operators’ own investment in rural infrastructure.”
When comparing rural areas across South African provinces, Opensignal observed major differences between them.
According to the research firm, its users in the rural parts of the Western Cape, Gauteng, North West, and Free State all see average download speeds above 30Mbps.
Meanwhile, Limpopo lags behind other provinces, with a score of 18.3Mbps, it reveals.
“Looking at time with no signal across the rural parts of South African provinces – our users in Gauteng, Free State, and North West spend the least time with no signal, with statistically tied scores of 1.0-1.6%. Meanwhile, rural users in the Northern Cape observe the highest proportion of time with no signal, at 5.6%."
“At a national level, our rural smartphone users in South Africa spend nearly twice as much time with no signal (2.1%) as those in suburban or urban areas (1.1%). These ratios differ greatly between South African provinces."
“While our users in Gauteng – the home province of Johannesburg and Pretoria – spend the same proportion of time with no signal in rural areas and cities (1%), those in Free State’s rural areas spend 5.4 times more time with no signal compared to their urban counterparts (0.3%).”