Evolution of the Internet in SA

Feb 7, 2019Knowledge

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In the age of information, we seldom pause and think about how we got here. Today, we carry a device so small it feels like an appendage rather than an accessory, where any piece of information we need is just seconds away.

 

While we spend much of our day online, it’s important to take a moment to look back on where it all began, before ISPs, and the internet we know and love today. It all started with three students — Dave Wilson, Francois Jacot Guilarmod and Mike Lawrie —who established an email link to the internet. The trio connected through a Fidonet gateway run by Randy Bush of Portland, Oregon, from the Control Data Cyber computer at Rhodes University. This was, according to record, the birth of the World Wide Web in South Africa.

 

The UUCP dial-up link that the trio had used was later replaced in 1991 by a fixed line leased at 9 600bps. This was now an established link to the internet, a technological wonder which, at the time, saw developments largely taking place at universities and other academic institutions across South Africa. Education, understandably, benefitted exponentially from internet access, thus research facilities aided and maintained many internet developments in South Africa. It wasn’t until the birth of the first ISP and commercialisation of the internet that others were able to enjoy the perks of being connected to the rest of the world.

The birth of the ISP

 

Many people credit Telkom as South Africa’s most recognised internet service provider (ISP), but although Telkom has been a communication conglomerate for almost three decades, the ISP we all know was not the first to commercialise the internet; they were just the first to improve on its commercial value. In November 1993, a truly pivotal period for all South Africans, The Internetworking Company of Southern Africa (Ticsa), the first ISP, was born. Later that month, Ticsa gave 10 commercial companies internet access, including The Internet Solution (TIS).

 

TIS is widely regarded as the company that commercialised the ISP industry, which eventually led to residential access to internet and the rise of more ISPs.

 

Internet@home

 

With the success of commercialised internet, the next crucial step was connecting homes. If you remember the dial-ups, and the synonymous dial-up tone, of the 90s, then you’d have had one of the first 56kbps modems through either Telkom or MWEB’s Black Box. This is most likely the earliest memories of the internet for many users and a time almost seen as prehistoric when considering internet speeds achievable today. However, despite archaic technology and sluggish speeds, the evolution of the internet, due to its wide range of benefits, was now set to hyper-speed as the race was on to better connect the world and offer the best prices at the fastest speeds possible.

 

Telkom stepped up the internet game locally by introducing the ISDN line which achieved speeds of 64kbps, and 128kbps if two lines were bonded together. This was there to satisfy the more tech-savvy users of the time and was a luxury for many internet users. Leading the charge in high-speed internet, Telkom released their first ADSL product in 2002 with speeds of up to 512kbps. This product soon became a household standard as internet became readily available across South Africa with coverage increasing exponentially over the years.

 

Goldstuck (2010) offers a great understanding of the evolution of internet in South Africa and mentions a stagnant period in consumer growth between 2002 and 2007. But significant changes in licensing being offered to over 400 companies meant they could now build and own their own networks as opposed to buying it from one of the big players in the industry.

 

The accelerated internet activity in South Africa, seen after 2009, led to an economic boost in Southern Africa, with Telkom at the helm connecting millions of homes. From 2010, internet speeds have increased to over 100Mbps, which is slowly becoming an affordable package for many homes in South Africa. Standard speeds seen in most homes in South Africa have increased tenfold in the last decade.

 

The creation of Openserve

 

In 2015, Openserve was launched as a separate business division of Telkom, as they set out in their new strategy of building business units within the Telkom group. Openserve took over the connectivity business for Telkom and has since connected over 2 million premises with over 1.47 million kilometres of fibre laid.

 

Openserve, essentially, creates the infrastructure with which South Africa is connected. It is almost impossible to drive more than a kilometre without seeing the green Openserve box.These landmarks are symbols of how far South Africa has come in the evolution of the internet.

 

However, what does the future hold for internet in South Africa?

 

References:

Goldstuck, A. 2010. ‘SA Internet Growth Accelerates’. World Wide Worx. [Online] Available: http://www.worldwideworx.com/sa-internet-growth-accelerates/ (Accessed 18 January 2019).

Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Openserve.

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