The man who gave South Africa affordable uncapped broadband

Rudi Jansen is one of South Africa’s Internet pioneers. He was a founding member of MWEB, helped with Naspers’ acquisition of Tencent Holdings.

He was also behind the drive which enabled open peering between all networks in the country. His biggest achievement, however, was to bring affordable broadband to South Africans.

To appreciate the magnitude of what Jansen achieved, it is important to understand what the broadband landscape looked like in the 2000s.

Telkom’s ADSL service dominated the market, and most Internet service providers were simply reselling Telkom’s wholesale ADSL products. This environment did not foster innovation or incentivise service providers to invest in their own network.

For nearly a decade after ADSL was launched in 2002 the price for a gigabyte of data remained largely unchanged at around R70 to R80 per GB. These high prices, coupled with the high bandwidth costs at the time, made it inconceivable that South Africa could have affordable, uncapped broadband.

Jansen and his team at MWEB thought differently. While developing a technical solution based on Telkom’s IPC product – which is used by ISPs to provide their own ADSL bandwidth – they realised that there are better solutions than simply buying a set product from Telkom and selling it on to their subscribers.

As MWEB CEO, Jansen also wanted to kick-start MWEB’s growth with a truly unique offering.

He set his management team the challenge of differentiating itself through uncapped products. “It ended up being one of the most exciting projects within MWEB and it really got the entire organisation focused. It was a wonderful period in the MWEB history,” said Jansen.

Uncapped broadband

To build an affordable uncapped product, in a market with high wholesale bandwidth costs controlled by Telkom, was not easy. In fact, nobody except Jansen and his team at MWEB though it could be done. They proved the market wrong.

MWEB built its own national and international network – which was previously outsourced almost entirely to Telkom and Internet Solutions – fast.

“We went from no network to one of the biggest networks in a space of 4 months,” Jansen said. They partnered with Seacom for affordable international bandwidth and purchased large amounts of IPC bandwidth from Telkom.

There was also the problem of free and open peering. At the time big telecoms operators were very protective of their networks and did not want to peer with MWEB.

“Nobody wanted to open up as they thought their own growth will stop and they charged a fortune for transit between networks. It was easier to get peering in Europe than in South Africa,” said Jansen.

Solving the peering problem turned out to be simple. Armed with enough affordable international bandwidth through Seacom, MWEB routed its traffic via Europe and passed its network traffic over at the almost free peering links. Locally, MWEB peered for free with whoever it could – big or small.

These plans came together beautifully, and on 22 March 2010 MWEB achieved the unthinkable – it launched uncapped ADSL products starting at R219 per month. This rocked the South African ISP market.

The talk in the industry was that MWEB had lost the plot. Jansen was told that uncapped ADSL was not sustainable and that it will never work. A few competing ISPs even though it was just a marketing stunt.

Jansen proved them all wrong and changed the South African broadband landscape forever. Uncapped broadband is now more widespread and more popular than ever, and it has helped to ignite many online industries in the country, including online gaming, streaming, and ecommerce.

Jansen’s words in 2010 are as relevant today as they were then: “Anyone who thinks you can go back to a capped world is completely misguided. You can never go back. You can never offer an inferior service.”

The full interview with Rudi Jansen is available here.

Now read: ADSL uncapped at R219 per month

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The man who gave South Africa affordable uncapped broadband