Bad news is good news

I hate to say this, but the recent xenophobic attacks have really given South African online video a boost. The Times has 70,768 hits on their photo slideshow ‘Flames of Hate’ and there are close to 10,000 views on the other xenophobia-related clips.


But why did we need this devastating thing to happen to get our nation’s Internet users to watch online video? The answer is simple: broadband. In 2006, 10.3% of South Africans were connected to the Internet. Experts estimate that up to 15% could now be connected. However, the stats for broadband are much lower. South Africa’s broadband penetration has been pinned at 0.5%.

What is broadband? I like the following definition:

Broadband in telecommunications means a wide range of frequencies that are available to transmit information. This ultimately means that the wider the range of frequencies available, the high the amount of information that can be sent at one given time. For an easy way to picture a broadband internet connection compared to a narrowband internet connection, think of a highway. With a one lane highway (narrowband), only one car at a time can travel, however with broadband, you can have a highway with 6 or 8 lanes, allowing more traffic to pass at one specific time.

So basically this means that most South African users have a slow Internet connection. But that isn’t even the half of it. You need to have serious money burning a hole in your pocket to be able to afford broadband. Or even narrowband for that matter. The fastest broadband offering in South Africa is Telkom’s DSL 4 Mbps service. This service is priced at R675 a month and allows for a 3GB monthly usage allowance which means the service costs R56,25 per Mbps/GB.

Using the Digital Opportunity Index (DO!), South Africa can be ranked 38th when compared to 40 other countries. SA is 10 times more expensive than China. Dr. Tim Kelly, from the ITU Strategy and Policy Unit said, “South Africa is paying far too much for broadband.”

Sounds pretty hopeless doesn’t it? However, there is a little gem called 3G. It’s the third generation in wirelesss technology. In South Africa, mobile service providers such as Vodafone and MTN offer 3G to thir customers. It basically works with a sim card and over the cell phone network. And because the cell phone network is far more advanced than the landline system, the 3G speed is quite impressive. Even in little old Grahamstown, 3G works like a charm. I have it at home and the ‘Flames of Hate’ slide show downloaded superfast. Plus, I’m not paying an arm and a leg for it. So the good news is that mobile technologies provide a decent alternative for the lower end of the market.

But where does this leave online video? The Times has chosen to wait until the “broadband bubble pops” – yes, that overused phrase. We’re all wondering if it’s ever going to pop. Until then, they’ll just have to wait like vultures for the bad news. Because fluffy video diaries just don’t cut it anymore.


~ by Ines Schumacher on 28 May 2008.

One Response to “Bad news is good news”

  1. We optimists like to believe that broadband will hit SA before 2010 – it has to. There will be a huge demand for online video updates of the 2010 World Cup for South Africans (and others) living abroad. The telecommunication companies know this, and will lose huge bucks if they don’t make a plan. If there don’t, I’d half expect riots to break out!

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