South Africa has fallen behind its international peers both developing and developed markets in the race to rollout broadband services. In fact, even within the African continent, it is neither the broadband leader nor progressive in comparison to its Northern African counterparts. This chapter explores the development of broadband services in South Africa, as well as touching on the challenges faced in bringing this phenomenon into the mainstream. Reasons for the lack of diffusion and adoption of such services point to high end user costs of the service, a very limited geographical footprint of both fixedline and mobile broadband infrastructure, as well as a lack of computer literacy and an understanding of what broadband is able to offer. The chapter looks at possible solutions, including introducing a greater degree of competition into the market to facilitate downward pressure on prices, as well as providing cost-based access to international submarine fiber cables and the unbundling of the local loop to further this objective.
Key Terms in this Chapter
SAT-3: Refers to South Atlantic 3. This is an existing submarine fiber optic cable linking Portugal and Spain to South Africa, with connections to several West African countries along the route. It forms part of the SAT-3/WASC/SAFE cable system, where the SAFE cable links South Africa to Asia.
EASSY (Eastern Africa Submarine System): A proposed submarine fiber optic cable that is designed to connect a multitude of countries along the east coast of Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and South Africa. Landlocked countries (e.g., Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, etc.) will also have indirect access to the cable. The proposed termination point—for onward connection to Europe—is Djibouti.
Local Loop Unbundling (LLU): A regulatory process of allowing multiple locally and nationally based telecommunications operators to make use of connections from the telephone exchange’s central office to the customer’s premises. The physical wire connection between customer and company is often referred to as the “local loop” and was historically owned by the incumbent local exchange carrier.
3G: The abbreviation for third-generation cellular technology. The services associated with 3G provide the ability to transfer simultaneously both voice data and non-voice data (e.g., downloading movies or sending/receiving e-mail). A number of applications are associated with 3G including videoconferencing, high-speed Web access, and even Internet telephony.
Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME): A company whose headcount or turnover falls below certain limits. In South Africa, SMEs typically have fewer than 100 employees.
Teledensity: Refers to telephone density. This is the number of telephone connections within a particular area, typically a square kilometer. Manhattan Island would have an extremely high teledensity whereas the outback regions in Australia would have an extremely low teledensity.
Public-Switched Telephone Network (PSTN): An engineering standard which defines the majority of the world’s traditional telephone systems. The technology operates by automatically connecting customers according to the number dialed.
Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN): The set of protocols which transform a regular copper telephone line into a digital platform that is inherently faster and more reliable than its analogue counterpart.