The Internet is a term which most people associate with visiting websites, watching YouTube videos, doing Google searches or buying a product online. The “magic” which makes this possible is a global system of fibre networks and connected computers.
Wikipedia describes the Internet as “a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to serve several billion users worldwide”.
“It is a network of networks that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business, and government networks, of local to global scope, that are linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies.”
CNN recently published an article titled “This is what the Internet actually looks like: The undersea cables wiring the Earth”, giving an overview of the global Internet.
“The information age is powered by thin fiber-optic cables buried in the sea bed, spreading between continents to connect the most remote corners of the planet,” the article stated.
MyBroadband used the same maps from research firm Telegeography and other sources to shed some light on what South Africa’s Internet looks like.
How you connect to the Internet
Most of MyBroadband’s readers have a good understanding of how the Internet works. If you are one of the odd ones out, here is a basic diagram to show you how your laptop or smartphone connects to the Internet.
It should be noted that this is a simplified view of what actually happens, which may involve many additional networks or traffic exchange points.
Global Internet - submarine cables
The Internet is powered by thousands of interconnected networks, which include submarine cables on the seabed to connect different countries and continents.
South Africa is connected to the rest of the world through five submarine cables – Wacs, Seacom, Sat-3, Safe, and Eassy.
The following cable maps show how these five submarine cables connect South Africa to international Internet hubs. (Please note that the Telegeography map includes the ACE cable, which is not active in SA).
South Africa’s national fibre networks
The Internet traffic must be carried from the submarine landing stations (at Mtunzini in KwaZulu-Natal, or Melkbosstrand and Yzerfontein close to Cape Town) to people across South Africa. National fibre networks serve this purpose.
Telkom has the largest national fibre network, offer connectivity to most areas in the country. Other national fibre players include Neotel, Broadband Infraco, Fibreco, DFA, Sanren, Vodacom and MTN.
The following fibre maps gives an overview of South Africa’s national fibre networks.
Metropolitan area networks
When a national fibre link lands in a city or large town, the traffic must be carried to a point which is close to the customer. This is achieved through metropolitan area networks which typically use fibre or microwave links.
There are many operators who have metropolitan area networks, including Telkom, Neotel, Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Internet Solutions and DFA.
The following maps from DFA gives an idea of what a metropolitan area fibre network looks like.
Last mile access
To get the Internet traffic to a user’s smartphone or laptop, a last mile network is needed. In South Africa the best known last mile connections are Telkom’s ADSL service, 3G and LTE from the mobile operators, and Neotel’s CDMA, WiMax and LTE products.
To connect to a last mile network, the company must have coverage in your region. Coverage maps are used to inform users whether they can get a certain service or not.
Here are some examples of last mile access coverage maps, courtesy of Vodacom, Telkom Mobile and Cell C.
Internet exchange points
Internet exchange points are places where telecoms operators and Internet services providers (ISPs) exchange Internet traffic between their networks.
Some operators prefer to share traffic with other parties directly – hence not at an Internet exchange. However, an Internet exchange is a central point which makes it easy for everyone to share traffic in one place.
South Africa has a few internet exchanges, operated by ISPA and NapAfrica, in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
Local Internet providers also peer (exchange traffic) at international exchange points to connect to international networks.
The following maps give an overview of the Internet exchange points globally and in SA.
How it all fits together
The following diagram shows how a website which is based in the United States is delivered to a mobile phone at the Gautrain station in Sandton.