Wondering how to keep in touch with your friends and relatives abroad from South Africa? Here is an overview of the telecommunications market.
South Africa is a leader on the African continent for the use of various telecommunications, including mobile phones, land lines and internet connections. Mobile phone usage is particularly high, one of the highest in the world, and social media is also thought to be a driving force behind many of the technology innovations of South Africa. Expats moving to the country should remember that technology may be slightly different from their own countries, with different expectations and market demands.
Mobile phones are one of the largest markets in South Africa, and are as popular as in many parts of Europe and North America. South Africa is ranked at 5th place for the amount of mobile phone usage (the USA is 7th), and there are more active SIM cards than there are people resident in South Africa. Mobile phones are particularly common when used in business, often replacing internet and land-line calls, and about 60 percent of South Africans use their mobile phones as their main internet connection.
Three quarters of the 25 million South Africans who are estimated to live below the poverty line are believed to have mobile phones. Studies of mobile phone use in South Africa report that there are low levels of computer use, but high levels of mobile ownership, meaning that there are more users of mobile phone internet devices than traditional internet connections such as broadband in South Africa. Companies can include Virgin Mobile, Vodacome, Telkom, Cell C and MTN.
The high level of mobile internet use means that regular internet connections are less important in South African life. There are approximately 2 million subscribers to broadband services, which is only about 4% of the population, and well below the standards of other countries with similar technology. While broadband is widely available, it is much more expensive than similar services in Europe and Australia. Part of the reason for this is the much lower market demand. South Africa has attempted to bring their country into line with the internet use in other developed countries, including allowing telecommunication licensees to build fixed-line networks. Many large cities, including Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town are also building their own optical-fiber network for city and government establishments.
Expats wanting to buy a mobile phone SIM need to be aware that the Regulation of Interception of Communications act (2011) requires expats buying a local SIM need to provide a passport, and evidence of their residence in South Africa. This can be a letterhead from the hotel, or communication such as the tenancy agreement for a rental property. This is relatively straightforward and easy to handle.
Expats living South Africa may want to consider connecting to the internet directly, rather than through a rented phone. Line communication includes ADSL, Diginet and Telcom, while other companies such as iBurst, MTN and Vodacom all offer wireless connections. Neotel has been offering wireless connections in some areas, and are planning to increase this service to most metropolitan areas in the country.