New rules for data speeds in South Africa

Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa must provide their customers with average download speeds of at least 5Mbps and average upload speeds of 1.5Mbps.

That is according to the End-User and Subscriber Service Charter Fourth Amendment Regulations, gazetted by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) on Tuesday, 28 March 2023.

These new regulations amend the Electronic Communications Act, and set out certain minimum service levels and standards for data, voice, and SMS services, whether they are provided by fixed, fixed-wireless, or mobile service providers.

For data services, the average download speeds should be 5Mbps or greater for application throughput, file transfer protocol (FTP) throughput, or hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) throughput.

The average upload speed for FTP and HTTP should also be 1.5Mbps or higher.

In addition, the round-trip time for data delivery — also known as latency — should measure an average of 100 milliseconds or less.

The regulations also demand minimum success and completion rates for web pages and video streaming.

When it comes to conventional voice services, the regulations determine that the call setup success ratio must be 98% or higher, call setup time must be nine seconds or less, and dropped calls should occur in less than 3% of cases.

The average speech quality mean opinion score for voice calls should be 3 out of 5 or higher.

SMS messages must also be delivered within 10 seconds of ending, and should be successfully delivered 98% of the time or more.

The table below shows the new minimum performance parameters for data, voice, and SMS services in South Africa.

Data services
Average value
Application throughput 5Mbps or higher
File transfer protocol (FTP) download throughput 5Mbps or higher
HTTP download throughput 5Mbps or higher
HTTP upload throughput 1.5Mbps or higher
File transfer protocol (FTP) upload throughput 1.5Mbps or higher
Round-trip time/Latency 100ms or less
Average speech quality mean opinion score (human-judged score from 1 to 5) 3.5 or higher
Minimum signal strength -105dBM or higher
Web page access success rate (number of times subscriber can successfully access a web browsing service out of total number of attempts) 95% or higher
Web page completion success rate (proportion of times that a web page is successfully retrieved once the download has already started) 95% or higher
Web page download time 5 seconds or less
Video streaming setup success rate (ratio of successful video stream reproduction starts to user requests for the stream) 95% or higher
Video streaming completion success rate (proportion of times video is reproduced until the end out of number of times it is started) 95% or higher
Video streaming reproduction cut-off ratio (probability that a successfully started video stream reproduction  is ended by a cause other than intentional user termination) 95% or higher
Voice and SMS services
Threshold
Average call setup success ratio 98% or higher
Average call setup time 9 seconds or less
Average dropped call ratio 3% or less
Average speech quality mean opinion score (human-judged score from 1 to 5) 3 or higher
Average SMS end-to-end delivery success rate 98% or higher
Average SMS end-to-end delivery time 10 seconds or less

Electronic Communications Network Service (ECNS) licensees must monitor their networks “24 hours a day, seven days a week”.

“A licensee shall provide raw network performance data post-hoc to the Authority upon request,” the regulations state.

Icasa said it would also monitor the quality of service performance provided by the licensees at any given time, or on an ad-hoc basis using drive tests, walk tests, probes, or counters.

The frequency of these audits, their parameters, reporting areas, and reporting periods will be at the sole discretion of the authority and won’t be advertised in advance.

“A Network Performance Monitoring System (NPMS) will be used for the purpose of analysing raw network performance data provided by the licensees in compliance with applicable statute laws,” Icasa said.

Icasa has also amended the regulations regarding notifications of service upgrades and network outages.

Under the new rules, a licensee must inform impacted end-users of any planned service interruptions to servicing or system upgrades seven days in advance.

Additionally, any unplanned major network outages resulting in poor service quality should be communicated to end-users and Icasa “as soon as it occurs.”

A major service outage can be any network condition that:

  • causes 1,000 or more customers to be out of service for 30 minutes or more; or
  • causes an unplanned outage of, or completely isolates a central office for 30 minutes; or
  • disrupts 911 emergency call processing for any period.

It is worth noting that South Africa’s emergency numbers are 112 and 10111 — not 911.

Outage communication with customers can be done via SMS, social media, or the licensee’s own website.

“The default must be that the end-users are opted in, but provided with the option to opt-out (or to opt back in again if they have previously opted out),” the regulations stated.

Lastly, Icasa has also added a sub-regulation that allows for educating end-users on cybersecurity and personal information protection.

This regulation permits the authority to order or direct licensees to issue consumer advisories to warn customers about potential cyber threats.

These might include warnings about fraudulent SIM swaps, fraudulent number porting, billing, or “any other issues which affect consumers, and which require immediate dissemination”.


Now read: South African networks can’t cut data prices while load-shedding rages

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New rules for data speeds in South Africa