Broadband in South Africa is in a poor state, with lower-than-average speeds and high prices leading to shocking value-for-money when compared to other countries.
South Africa had an average broadband speed of only 3.3Mbps during Q2 2015, according to the Akamai State of the Internet report.
Our peak speed of 16.8Mbps was significantly lower than the global average peak speed of 32.5Mbps.
These figures, combined with recent statistics from Point Topic which show that fibre broadband connections overtook copper globally during Q2 2015, give an idea of how bad South Africa’s broadband is.
The reasons for South Africa’s slow and expensive Internet access are diverse and complex, but broadly it comes down to the government’s apathy when action is needed, and government interference when it should just get out of the way.
How to fix broadband in SA – make it easy to roll out infrastructure
While more competition in the telecommunications infrastructure provider space would be welcome, Telkom no longer has the monopoly it used to.
It remains the dominant player, but increased competition in undersea cables, national backhaul, and last-mile access means that the government’s failure to follow through on projects such as local loop unbundling has become less of a concern.
What the government can do now is get out of the way of those who want to build broadband infrastructure.
Seacom’s Suveer Ramdhani said he believes some people need to “step out of the way”, when speaking at the 2015 MyBroadband Conference.
Ramdhani said getting the rights to build a fixed-line network should be easier and cheaper, so that infrastructure providers can focus on putting fibre in the ground.
Vodacom’s Jannie van Zyl agreed, saying that getting the necessary approvals to build a network can be expensive.
He said streamlined access to the various bodies to better plan fibre deployments would not only speed up roll-outs, but make them cheaper.
Assign unused spectrum
Another bottleneck to better broadband in South Africa is that frequency spectrum remains unassigned.
The government has held back on releasing spectrum in the 2.6GHz band which could be used for faster LTE and LTE-Advanced wireless networks.
This is likely because it wants to complete South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital TV broadcasting first, so that spectrum in the 800MHz “digital dividend” can be assigned with the 2.6GHz band.
However, when it became apparent there would be massive delays in the digital migration, an effort could have been made to get LTE spectrum in the hands of those who would use it.
Instead, mobile operators had to re-farm their existing spectrum to roll out LTE, limiting the effectiveness of the technology.