Source: Google Images

In the modern age, being connected to someone often means interacting with them via the internet, whether it be on social media applications such as Instagram or Twitter, messaging apps such as WhatsApp or WeChat, or simply via email. This means that internet connection and speed doesn’t just mean how quickly you can download something, but rather how quickly you can be connected to someone.

Internet speed depends on a variety of factors, but the most important of them is the established infrastructure that can roll out the latest technology to make internet faster.

South Africa ranks in the top 100 countries for broadband speed in the world ranking 76th, but still falls behind the global average download speed. Before breaking down the internet speed by province, it is necessary to analyse some factors which help understand the way the internet in South Africa works.

Household Internet Access

Government initiatives have helped expand access to the internet across the country in recent years. Today, about 60% of internet traffic generated in African continent originates from South Africa.

With almost 54% of the total population of South Africa being active Internet users, the percentage of households with access to the internet at home, or for which at least one member has access to the Internet is 59,3 %, according to the General Household Survey by StatsSA. The map below shows the percentage of households with access to the internet by province.

(Source: Supplied)

Access to the Internet using all available means is highest in Gauteng (72,2%), Western Cape (68,5%) and Mpumalanga (58,1%), and lowest in Limpopo (42,4%) and Eastern Cape (49,2%). Nearly one-tenth of South African households have access to the internet at home. Access to the internet at home is highest among households in the Western Cape (23, 6%) and Gauteng (14,8%), and lowest in Limpopo (1,6%) and North West (3,5%).

Nevertheless, the South African internet penetration of 54% remains low, compared to the global average of 57%. Africa is far behind the rest of the world when it comes to broadband provision, relying primarily on wireless (WiMAX, 3G, and 4G) connectivity rather than cables to cover its vast spaces.

Mobile phone internet access is much more extensive than access to the internet through other mediums, reaching 65% in 2017. The majority of internet users (60%) access the internet through their mobile devices.

Time Spent Online

Social media marketing platform Hootsuite’s Global State of Digital in 2019 report found that the typical South African internet user spent 8 hours 23 minutes on the internet per day, compared to 7 hours 2 minutes in Singapore and 6 hours 38 minutes in the US. South Africans cellphone owners also spend a long time on the web every day –an average of 3 hours 30 minutes, compared to the global average of 3 hours 14 minutes.

The report found that 40% of South African internet users had active social media accounts. WhatsApp was South Africa’s most active social media platform with 90% of internet users accessing the platform, followed by YouTube at 84%, Facebook at 82%, and Facebook messenger at 57% and Instagram at 54%.

Internet Speed

South Africa has moved up four places on the worldwide broadband speed league. According to Cable.co.uk, SA is now ranked at number 76 out of 200 countries in regards to the average global broadband speed. Besides, when it comes to the African continent as a whole, South Africa in particular fares well, coming in third behind only Kenya and Madagascar

The report, “Worldwide broadband speed league 2018” is based on over 163-million speed tests in 200 countries. According to the report, SA has a mean download speed of 6.38Mbps and the time it takes to download a typical 5 GB high-definition movie in the country is 1hr 47min 3sec.

What about the South African provinces? Free State has the fastest download speed among South African provinces. The three South African provinces with the fastest average download speeds –all in the centre of the country– are Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Download speed in the country’s fastest province was 38.7% faster than that in the slowest (Northern Cape), while speeds in the country’s largest cities are relatively similar.

The two slowest provinces (Northern Cape and North West) are both along South Africa’s northern border and are among the country’s least densely populated.

Mobile Internet Speed

South Africa has the fastest average mobile download speed in Africa with 22.42 Mbps. But speed varies among cities. The online service QuotesAdvisor.com analyzed its website traffic to specify the speed of the internet and the results suggest that Durban has the fastest download speed with 26.66 Mbps, followed by Pretoria with 24.25 Mbps and Johannesburg with 23.62 Mbps. Nevertheless, the difference in speed among the cities is so subtle that a casual user would not notice the difference at all.

City Download (Mbps)
Durban 26.66
Pretoria 24.25
Johannesburg 23.62
Soweto 22.90
Cape Town 22.72

Even though the internet penetration in South Africa reaches over half of the population, it is low compared to the global average. The expansion of access to internet –and the fastest internet– is concentrated in the provinces that are more densely populated –as it is expected. Surprisingly enough, the city with the fastest mobile internet speed is Durban in KwaZuluNatal.