South Africa’s 500,000% Internet traffic surge

Internet traffic travelling through South Africa’s biggest Internet exchange — NAPAfrica — has jumped by over half a million per cent in just over a decade.

Africa’s largest data centre company — Teraco — launched NAPAfrica as a vendor-neutral Internet exchange point for South Africa in March 2012.

It allows companies with content and services hosted on the Internet to peer locally by rolling out infrastructure in Teraco’s router server facilities.

Peering is free and does not require customers to pay membership, port, or cross-connect fees.

Organisations only pay for the space and hardware they rent in Teraco’s data centres, although they can also bring their own equipment.

At its launch, NAPAfrica only had five peers and measured peak data traffic of around 532Mbps.

In 2014, around two years later, around 100 companies were peering at the exchange and recorded a peak throughput of about 6Gbps.

That meant data traffic had grown roughly 12-fold in two years.

But by 2016, throughput surged to 100Gbps, nearly a 17-fold increase, while peering members also doubled.

That was the same year that Netflix officially rolled out in South Africa.

The years of Terabits begin

The exchange reached a major milestone during the Covid-19 pandemic, breaching 1Tbps for the first time at the start of the country’s first hard lockdown in March 2020.

South African Internet usage surged during the period because many more people were using their connections to work and learn from home.

By October 2020, peak peering throughput jumped by more than 50% to 1.5Tbps. It gradually kept creeping upwards and breached 2Tbps by the end of 2021.

By the end of January 2023, traffic throughput had climbed by nearly another 50%, hitting a peak of 2.87Tbps.

That represents a monumental jump of over 560,000% from the 532Mbps throughput measured at NAPAfrica’s inception.

The table and infographic below show how peering traffic through NAPAfrica increased between 2014 and 2023. Exact figures might differ slightly as they were measured on different dates.

NAPAfrica traffic
Peering throughput
2014 6Gbps
2016 100Gbps
2018 600Gbps
March 2020 1Tbps
October 2020 1.5Tbps
May 2021 1.7Tbps
May 2022 2.3Tbps
January 2022 2.9Tbps

South Africa’s broadband infrastructure has expanded rapidly in the past few years.

More fast fibre Internet connections have become available to households, and cellular network customers are also consuming increasingly higher volumes of mobile data.

NAPAfrica told MyBroadband that it could see that more and more people were getting online every day.

Its network traffic surge has been driven by its peering members increasing from 100 in 2014 to 575 by the end of January 2023.

The graph below shows how NAPAfrica’s membership grew from 2014 to 2022.

The types of content Internet users consume also play a significant part in the increased traffic.

In this regard, video streaming services have contributed immensely, as sending video over the Internet consumes a lot of data.

NAPAfrica said Internet users are no longer just accessing well-known services like Netflix and Showmax but have many other options to choose from.

In recent years, several streaming services have come online in South Africa, including Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Britbox, eVOD, and SABC+.

In addition, big enterprises were moving into NAPAfrica at a rapid rate — expanding their data and systems out of cloistered domains as they have become embedded in the online community.

Peering locally allows tech giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft to speed up software updates and other services to South African customers.

NAPAfrica said it does not expect to see a repeat of the boom in traffic observed during the Covid-19 pandemic, but that traffic would continue to trend upward.

It expects to hit a 3Tbps milestone traffic before year’s end, which would be triple the peak seen at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

NAPAfrica has an online data portal that provides an overview of traffic across its Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban Internet exchanges.

While it does not account for all Internet traffic travelling over South Africa’s networks, it reflects the overall trend.


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South Africa’s 500,000% Internet traffic surge