It is more akin to a beautiful patchwork quilt of vendor-and-technology-neutral interconnected networks, held together by the sheer bloody-mindedness of techies, and no small amount of human trust.
Rolling out broadband infrastructure is not cheap, however, so major infrastructure is typically controlled by a handful of companies.
These gatekeepers of the Internet in South Africa are listed below, along with the infrastructure they control.
Telkom is the gatekeeper of all ADSL connections and owner of the largest fibre network in the country.
Telkom recently split its wholesale fixed-line division off into a separate entity called Openserve, but you still need to pay Telkom for a phone line if you want ADSL.
It has stakes in 3 undersea cable systems: SAT–3/SAFE, EASSy, and WACS.
Telkom also operates its own cellular network.
A new division of Telkom which controls wholesale access to South Africa’s only ADSL network.
It has also taken over Telkom’s fibre network, which at over 146,000km in length dwarfs other networks in the country.
Openserve also took over the SA Internet Exchange, and reseller DSL services.
In addition to its consumer-facing CDMA fixed-wireless network, Neotel operates a significant national fibre network.
Neotel owns stakes in 2 undersea cables: EASSy, and WACS.
It has also collaborated with Vodacom and MTN on a new National Long Distance (NLD) fibre network, competing with Telkom and Broadband Infraco’s national fibre infrastructure.
Vodacom owns and operates the largest cellular network in South Africa.
It has fibre infrastructure which it uses for backhaul for many of its cellular base stations, and to offer fixed-line residential and business fibre services.
In addition to owning stakes in EASSy and WACS, it also collaborated with MTN on the NLD, and is busy buying Neotel.
MTN owns and operates the second-largest cellular network in South Africa.
Like Vodacom, it owns stakes in WACS and EASSy, and is using its fibre infrastructure for backhaul and fixed-line business and residential services.
It drove the roll-out of the NLD, a new fibre network linking Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban – which was built in collaboration with Vodacom and Neotel.
Cell C owns and operates a cellular network, as well as some fibre infrastructure which its uses for backhaul.
Talk in the industry is that Telkom has put in a bid to buy Cell C.
Seacom operates its own undersea cable on the east coast of Africa, of which only a fraction is used.
It has also procured capacity on the WACS cable off the west cost of the continent for redundancy, and recently began offering enterprise cloud and connectivity services.
Teraco offers vendor-neutral data centre facilities, where it also hosts three Internet exchanges.
- NAPAfrica Johannesburg Internet Exchange
- NAPAfrica Cape Town Internet Exchange
- The Durban Internet Exchange which is managed by the Internet Service Providers’ Association of South Africa (ISPA)
Internet Solutions (with ISPA)
In addition to its wholesale and end-user Internet services, Internet Solutions runs data centres – where it hosts Internet exchanges that are managed by ISPA.
- Johannesburg Internet Exchange
- Cape Town Internet Exchange
Other infrastructure companies
There are a number of significant infrastructure players not listed above, such as Dark Fibre Africa, Vumatel, and others who have helped unlock South Africa’s latent demand for fibre broadband.
These smaller network providers, which include the likes of Vox Telecom and Cybersmart who are better known as ISPs, are now competing against the big boys in the last-mile access space.