The History of Internet access in South Africa

The Internet in South Africa can be tracked back to Rhodes University in 1988, when three pioneers – Francois Jacot Guilarmod, Dave Wilson and Mike Lawrie – established an email link to the Internet.

The email link used the Fidonet mailing system as a transport mechanism to exchange email between the Control Data Cyber computer at Rhodes University and a Fidonet gateway run by Randy Bush of Portland, Oregon.

“One thing led to another, and about a year later there was a uucp gateway in parallel to the Fidonet link. This was also a dialup system,” explained Lawrie.

Towards the end of 1991 the uucp dialup link was replaced with a full Internet connection that operated across a leased line at 9,600bps.

During this period, most of the South African Internet developments happened at universities and academic institutions. This changed with the advent of commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck’s report “Internet Access in South Africa 2010” provides a good overview of the early days of the Internet in the country. The following sections draw strongly from this report.

Email at Rhodes University
Email at Rhodes University

Commercial Internet access arrives

The Internet started to gain traction in the business world when commercial ISPs saw the potential of the Internet.

In November 1993, South Africa’s first commercial ISP – The Internetworking Company of Southern Africa (Ticsa) – was formed.

On 1 November 1993, Ticsa gave four commercial companies live access to the Internet, with another six following a week later.

One of Ticsa‘s first customers was The Internet Solution (TIS), an ISP founded by Ronnie Apteker, Phil Green, Tom Mcwalter and Joe Silva.

“While Ticsa clearly gave birth to the ISP industry…it was the arrival of TIS that commercialised the Internet access business,” said Goldstuck.

Goldstuck’s report provided the following historic posting to two South African newsgroups:

Newsgroups: uninet.config,sanet.config
From: [email protected] (Chris Pinkham)
Subject: New Internet link in place
Date: Mon, 1 Nov 1993 18:26:51 GMT
Organization: Aztec Information Management & Guest logins

The Internetworking Company of Southern Africa (Ticsa) is pleased to announce that its 64K link to The Internet is up and running. Ticsa’s Cape Town hub is connected to Alternet in Falls Church VA.

Ticsa is a new company whose goal is to extend Internet services in the region to those who have previously not had access, such as commercial organisations and other non-academic bodies, as well as those in neighbouring countries. It operates with a voluntary, not-for-profit philosophy, based on the founders’ desire to make these services available for as low a cost as possible.

As of tonight (Monday, 1 November), four companies hae access to the Internet via Ticsa, with another six connections scheduled for the coming week. A connection between Uninet-ZA and Ticsa is planned, linking all the local IP nets. Currently, communication between Ticsa and Uninet sites crosses the Atlantic (twice :-).

For more information about Ticsa, contact us on (021) 419-2768, or send us email at [email protected].

The early days of residential Internet services

In 1997, 56kbps dial-up connections started to gain popularity, with products like MWEB’s Big Black Box attracting many new subscribers.

Telkom’s 64kbps ISDN Internet service (two ISDN lines could be bonded to achieve 128kbps), also proved popular among tech-savvy users.

The broadband era arrived in South Africa in 2002 when Telkom launched its first commercial ADSL product, offering download speeds of 512kbps.

Wireless broadband services emerged in South Africa in 2004, with Sentech MyWireless, iBurst and Vodacom 3G offering speeds of between 128kbps and 1Mbps.

Over the last decade, many new broadband services were launched, and today South Africans can enjoy fixed and wireless broadband speeds exceeding 100Mbps.

The following infographic provides an overview of Internet access in South Africa from the early days of the Internet.

It should be noted that only services with a significant footprint in the country are listed, which exclude neighborhood fibre projects and most regional wireless projects. Enterprise connectivity products are also excluded.

Internet speeds in South Africa
Internet speeds in South Africa

More on the history of the Internet in South Africa

South African broadband speeds: 2008 to 2014

How the internet started in South Africa

The History of the Internet in South Africa

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The History of Internet access in South Africa