South Africa’s Unique Path to Internet Dominance

South Africa’s Unique Path to Internet Dominance

South Africa’s digital landscape is evolving rapidly, with the country occupying the top spot for time spent online in the fourth quarter of 2023. Internet users in South Africa spent more than nine hours and 32 minutes online per day, ranking first among the regions worldwide. This appetite for data consumption is driven by rapid smartphone adoption.  As of 2023, about 20 to 22 million South Africans use a smartphone, which accounts for about one-third of the country’s population. This surge in mobile usage is not merely a technological shift, but a reflection of deeper societal and historical factors. South Africa’s legacy of isolated communities and long commutes, has inadvertently contributed to the current reliance on mobile devices for entertainment and connection. 

“An absence of reliable electricity further amplifies this dependence, as mobile devices keep people connected during these frequent power outages,” says Aleph MD of Sub-Saharan Africa, Stephen A. Newton.  

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Aleph Holdings is a company specialising in digital expertise for small and medium businesses (SMB) in underserved markets, helping advertisers engage with consumers on the world’s leading platforms, such as Snap, Spotify, TikTok, X, and others. “The rise of streaming services and social media platforms has further cemented an online culture in South Africa,” he says. 

Younger generations in particular, are heavy consumers of digital content. According to Aleph’s Audience research for South Africa, Ghana and Kenya in Q4 of 2023, 16 to 24 year olds stream music more than other age groups. The increasing affordability of smartphones, coupled with the expansion of mobile broadband networks, is expected to drive further growth in mobile usage.

“This growth is not limited to urban areas; rural communities are also experiencing a significant increase in mobile adoption, bridging the digital divide and empowering individuals with access to information and services,” says Newton.

With over 112.7 million mobile connections by early 2023, according to Statista data, smart devices are no longer a luxury, but a common tool. Even considering people with multiple subscriptions, the fact that connections outnumber the population shows how widespread data connectivity has become.

The Global System Operators and Manufacturers Association (GSMA) “Mobile Economy 2023” estimates that sub-Saharan Africa monthly mobile data traffic is expected to nearly quadruple to 18 gigabytes (GB) per user in 2028 from 4.6GB in 2022. This rising demand for mobile data and the need for more robust infrastructure are key issues being addressed by government policies aimed at expanding access. “The potential benefits of this mobile-centric future are immense, from economic growth to improved access to education and healthcare,” says Newton. 

“As South Africa continues its digital journey, the population will continue migrating online for work opportunities and entertainment.”