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SA smartphone numbers jump, but fixed broadband subs drop

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South Africa's smartphone penetration was over 90% in 2019, while mobile users increased overall. But the country saw a drop of almost 20% in fixed broadband subscriptions as more South Africans opted for wireless solutions or used the Internet on their mobile phones.

South Africa's smartphone penetration increased from 81.7% in 2018 to 91.2% in 2019, according to the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA)'s 2020 State of the ICT Sector report.

The report is the fifth of its kind from ICASA and the data used to compile it was collected over a 12-month period ending September 30, 2019. ICASA said the data used was collected from secondary sources – such as Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and OOKLA – as well as through a detailed questionnaire sent to relevant stakeholders.

Smartphone penetration, as of September 30 each year

ICASA totaled SA smartphone subscriptions at 53.38 million in 2019, coming up close to South Africa's total population of 58.78 million, according to Stats SA's estimated mid-year figures for 2019. Of course, that does not mean that over 90% of people have a smartphone, as some citizens could have more than one smartphone subscription and others still use feature phone devices or do not have a mobile phone at all.

Overall, South Africa's mobile numbers are also increasing. Mobile cellular data subscriptions jumped 18.8% from 65 million in 2018 to 78 million in 2019. Over five years there was an increase of 13.9%.

Total mobile voice subscriptions grew by 5.7%, from 91 million in 2018 to 96 million in 2019. Of this total, 85% were prepaid subscriptions and 15% were postpaid. Over a five-year period, the total mobile voice subscriptions increased by 2.8%, driven by a 3.3% increase in prepaid users, while postpaid users declined by 0.2%.

Africa is known to be a mobile-first continent where the majority of Internet access is through mobile devices. According to Stats SA's latest General Household Survey data, 60% of South African households had access to the Internet using mobile devices in 2018. The proportion of households who use only cellular phones as a means of communication also grew from 85.5% in 2015 to 89.5% by 2018.

Overall ICASA believes that mobile phone network coverage in South Africa is in a good state, with national population coverage for 3G rising from 99.5% in 2018 to 99.7% in 2019 and national population coverage for 4G/LTE increasing from 85.7% in 2018 to 92.8% in 2019.

Fixed broadband decline
Meanwhile, total fixed broadband subscriptions decreased by 19.6% in 2019. ICASA said the drop was mainly a result of significant decrease in DSL Internet subscriptions, which went down by 42.8%. Fiber Internet subscriptions, however, were up by 28.8% over the 12 months.

When you look at a five-year period, fixed broadband subscriptions have increased in South Africa by 29.4% and fiber Internet subscriptions rocketed 168.2%.

SA's fixed broadband subs sat at around 3.1 million in 2019, with DSL Internet making up 1.4 million, fiber Internet 1.6 million and "other fixed (wired)-broadband subscriptions" making up the last 24,000.

Fixed broadband subscriptions, as of September 30 each year

While fixed broadband subscriptions were dropping, wireless broadband subscriptions increased by 25% from 185,327 in 2018 to 231,687 in 2019. Over a five-year period, wireless broadband subs increased by 11.7%.

Satellite broadband subscriptions were also on a downward trend, dropping from 31,363 in 2017 to 22,093 in 2019.

Wireless broadband subscriptions, as of September 30 each year

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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