The 1.4 Petabyte man — South Africa’s biggest data hogs

At least two fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) users in South Africa consumed over a petabyte (PB) of data — equal to 1,000 terabytes (TB) of data — in the first 11 months of 2023.

That is according to feedback provided to MyBroadband from several major Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa.

While three users surpassed a petabyte of usage over the same period in 2022, the consumption of the two hungriest data users was substantially higher this time around.

In addition, at least seven other users had consumed multiple hundreds of terabytes of data.

The surge in data consumption on FTTH networks is driven by several factors.

Many of South Africa’s major fibre network operators (FNOs) have been cutting their entry-level packages with download speeds below 50Mbps and migrating customers to higher speeds.

This allows customers to consume more data without running into a connectivity bottleneck — making them more likely to increase their Internet usage.

There is also fierce competition in the premium FTTH category, with highly competitive pricing on packages with 500Mbps and 1Gbps speeds in particular. On a per-Mbps basis, these packages offer the best value.

There has also been an increase in bandwidth-heavy content — particularly video.

Movies and TV series you can download or stream from the Internet can now often be watched in 4K, consuming over four times the data of a 1080p stream.

The increase in traffic across networks is well illustrated in data from South Africa’s biggest Internet exchange point — NAPAfrica —  which reported a bandwidth throughput of 4 terabit-per-second (Tbps) in November 2023.

That milestone came less than a year after it reached 3Tbps throughput in February 2023. Its figures only account for traffic going through the 600 companies and entities that peer at the exchange.

Infographic showing increase in traffic through NAPAfrica since launch in 2014

MyBroadband asked the country’s most popular fibre ISPs how much data their three most demanding users consumed from January 2023 to November 2023.

Afrihost, Cool Ideas, and Level-7 responded by the time of writing.

The user with the highest consumption was an Afrihost customer using a 1Gbps line on Vumatel’s network, with an upload speed of 250Mbps.

The unknown user consumed 1.412PB of data in the 11 months, working out to an average of about 128TB per month.

The total figure is equal to 1,412TB data or 1.412 million gigabytes.

To put that into context, you would have to download a 150GB game like Baldur’s Gate 3 or Red Dead Redemption 2 about 9,413 times to reach that usage.

A second user on Afrihost consumed 1.291PB data on the same type of connection, while a third customer on a Frogfoot symmetric 1Gbps line ate through 951TB.

Afrhost’s top 10 heaviest fibre data consumers for the year used the following packages:

  • 1,000/250Mbps on Vuma/Vuma Aerial — 4 customers
  • 1,000/1,000Mbps on Frogfoot — 3 customers 
  • 500/250Mbps Openserve — 2 customers
  • 1,000/200Mbps Octotel — 1 customer

Cool Ideas and Level-7 also had several users who burnt through multiple hundreds of terabytes of data during the period.

Cool Ideas’ top user consumed 835TB during the period, using the MetroFibre network.

What we found particularly interesting was that this user had a 50/50Mbps connection.

In theory, that would only make it possible to download and upload data up to 12.5MB/s.

That works out to 7.5GB per hour, 90GB per day, 2.7TB per month, and about 29.7TB in 11 months.

Therefore, the customer likely downgraded from a faster package at some point during the year.

Biggest traffic sources

Level-7’s three biggest consumers were all on Openserve’s network, with the top two using a 500/250Mbps connection and the third on a 300/150Mbps package.

The heaviest user consumed 413TB, which is still a very impressive number when considering it works out to about 37.54TB per month.

The ISP told us the biggest traffic drivers on its network were video streaming content, Playstation Store downloads and Xbox Live game downloads, in that order.

The single app that drove the most traffic was Netflix, followed by YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Disney+. There were significant surges in TikTok and Disney+ traffic, in particular, during the 11 months.

Level-7 also observed a substantial increase in DStv traffic during the 2023 Rugby World Cup final between the Springboks and All Blacks, coupled with a noticeable dive in social media and video streaming traffic compared to its typical Saturday evening usage patterns.

The table below shows how much data the top three consumers on Afrihost, Cool Ideas, and Level-7 used from January to November 2023 and what products they are currently on.

Biggest FTTH data consumers in 2023
Fibre network operator Package speeds (download/upload) Consumption
Vumatel 1,000/250Mbps 1,412TB
Vumatel 1,000/250Mbps 1,291TB
Frogfoot 1,000/1,000Mbps 951TB
Cool Ideas
MetroFibre 50/50Mbps* 835TB
Vumatel 1,000/250Mbps 629TB
Octotel 1,000/200Mbps 611TB
*Likely downgraded at some point during the year
Openserve 500/250Mbps 413TB
Openserve 500/250Mbps 378TB
Openserve 300/150Mbps 311TB

Now read: DFA partners with Herotel and Comsol to expand business fibre network

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The 1.4 Petabyte man — South Africa’s biggest data hogs