Asha Speckman

BROADBAND access in South Africa has more than doubled over the past two years as cellular network operators have dropped the cost of data packages, according to the Internet Access in South Africa 2012 study published yesterday.

Broadband subscriptions grew by 128 percent to 8 million this year, from 3.6 million in 2010, mainly due to an increase in users of mobile services.

World Wide Worx conducted the study in collaboration with the Howzit MSN online portal. It is published by Kagiso MSN, a division of Kagiso Media.

Broadband is a general term for high-speed data transmission services.

Some consumers use multiple forms of broadband access, including ADSL, a fixed-line technology, and third-generation (3G) wireless technology, while other consumers switch operators to take advantage of promotional offers. As a result, the number of broadband users is substantially lower than the number of subscribers, but has grown to 6.7 million from 2.8 million.

Last month Cell C unveiled a 100 gigabyte data package costing less than 3c a megabyte. 8ta, Telkom’s cellphone unit, also launched Freezone in collaboration with Google, to offer the public internet service with no data charges.

World Wide Worx managing director Arthur Goldstuck said growth in broadband penetration suggested that “five years from now, mobile broadband and smartphones will be the conventional means of access, rather than fixed line, which will increasingly be confined to small business”.

He said this could mean internet service providers such as Mweb would have to increasingly become resellers of cellular broadband bundles.

The fixed-line share of the broadband market fell and for every one fixed-line broadband subscription, there were eight mobile broadband subscriptions, the study revealed.

Telkom ADSL now has only 10.6 percent of the broadband subscriber market.

The internet contributed 2 percent to the country’s economy, a World Wide Worx study on behalf of Google South Africa found in May.

Justin Zehmke, the executive producer of Howzit MSN, said consumer preference for cellphone above fixed-line access represented a shift in the way people consumed content.

Zehmke said: “The 9am to 5pm internet peak, along with the traditional desktop publishing and advertising model that has become the South African standard, will become increasingly irrelevant. Coupled with the availability of cheaper mobile devices, this presents an opportunity for smaller publishing and tech companies to enter a market traditionally dominated by a few major players.”

South Africa now has 15.8 percent broadband penetration of the population but the actual number is closer to 11 percent if multiple broadband subscriptions to one individual are excluded.

In contrast, a report titled “New wave – who uses the internet”, published by Wits University last week, showed that 34 percent of the population used the internet, while half of the balance of non-users did not know what the internet was.

Zehmke said the trend in broadband penetration meant the user-base demographic was shifting significantly and this created space for new content and business models.

“The trends presented in this survey suggest that we will see a major shift in the type of content supplied and consumed, with mobile apps and services at the top of the industry’s priority list.”