How South Africa’s Internet Got Where It Is Now

Internet access in South Africa has overcome many challenges over its three-decade history, including bitter legal battles to avoid state monopolization.

In 1974, South Africa’s first ARPANET node came online, beginning the country’s Internet journey.

Then, in 1988, Internet pioneer Mike Lawrie and a small team built the first gateway and established the nation’s first Internet connection.

The Rhodes gateway became an email carrier in 1989 and the campus established a wide area network connection with the University of Cape Town in 1990.

South Africa’s first commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP), the Internetworking Company of Southern Africa, was established in 1993 and began offering Internet access to businesses.

That year, the Africa Internet Development Action Team (AIDAT) was also formed. He compiled information about ISPs and helped share knowledge about network issues.

Members of AIDAT then formed the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) in 1996 to combat Telkom’s anti-competitive behavior by filing a complaint with the Competition Commission.

The Commission eventually fined Telkom and ordered the separation of its wholesale and retail divisions.

ISPA was also responsible for launching the first Internet Exchange Point in Johannesburg later that year.

In 1997, ICASA’s precursor, the Telecommunications Regulatory Association of South Africa, rejected Telkom’s attempts to monopolize access to the Internet and declared the Internet a competition area under the Telecommunications Act.

From 2000, South Africans began to see the dawn of commercial broadband services, with Telkom launching the country’s first commercial asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) product in 2002.

Wireless broadband began flooding the scene in 2004, including offerings from Sentech, iBurst and Vodacom.


In 2005, Altech Autopage Cellular and other industry players challenged then Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in court over network license restrictions.

Altech had applied for a license that would allow them to build their own network infrastructure, but was denied.

Matsepe-Casaburri argued that Icasa could only issue such licenses with its approval. Altech challenged its interpretation of the new electronic communications law.

Altech won the case in 2008, beginning to free the South African telecommunications industry from government monopoly and allowing voice and data operators to build their own networks.

In 2009, Seacom’s submarine cables landed near Mtunzini in KwaZulu-Natal, opening the floodgates for international broadband capacity in South Africa.

Mweb launched uncapped ADSL services in 2010, prompting competitors to develop similar offerings.

Teraco established NAPAfrica in 2012 as Africa’s first neutral internet exchange point and launched a game changer – free network peering facilities for anyone in its data center.

Over the years, as international content providers such as Google, Facebook and Netflix have looked to NAPAfrica, it has helped to significantly reduce broadband prices in South Africa by reducing the international capacity that ISPs had to purchase. .

Vodacom also launched its LTE-enabled network the same year, promising unprecedented mobile data speeds.

Fiber-to-the-home rollout in South Africa exploded from 2014 after Vumatel paved the way in Parkhurst, Johannesburg.

Telkom unveiled its uncapped LTE plans in 2015, but limited it to 150 customers per base station due to capacity constraints.

Rain was the first South African company to switch to 5G in 2019, saying the technology will provide a viable wireless alternative to fibre.

Vodacom and MTN followed suit by launching 5G a year later, using a small portion of the temporary spectrum allocated after South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown.

In March 2022, Icasa held its first radio frequency spectrum auction after the industry pleaded with the government for decades to free up more cellular network capacity.

South Africa’s major mobile network operators have said they will use the spectrum to increase network capacity and improve 4G and 5G connectivity nationwide. Prices should also drop.

The table below summarizes the history of the Internet in South Africa since 1974.

Early days
1974 Vint Cerf helps South Africa build its first ARPANET node.
1988 Mike Lawrie leads a group of Rhodes students and builds an internet gateway. Rhodes gets an IP address.
1989 The Rhodes gateway becomes a mail carrier.
1990 Rhodes and UCT establish an Internet connection.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers grants the .za domain to South Africa.

International connections
1991 Telkom is founded but initially refuses to install and lease a line in the United States due to cost.

Despite this, the first IP connection is established in Portland, Oregon.

1992 The second level domain is registered.
1993 Creation of South Africa’s first commercial ISP, The Internetworking Company of Southern Africa.

The African Internet Development Action Team (AIDAT) is created.

1995 UniForum SA, (now ZA Central Registry) responsible for administering the domain name.
1996 Members of AIDAT form the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA).

ISPA launches the first internet exchange point in Johannesburg.

1997 The South African Telecommunications Regulatory Association (SATRA) declares the Internet as a domain of competition.
The dawn of broadband
2002 Telkom launches its first commercial ADSL product.
2004 3G, launch of Sentech MyWireless.
2005 Telkom launches 1 Mbps ADSL. iBurst launches.

The Altech case begins.

2008 Altech wins the case, and the release of Telecom SA begins.
2009 Seacom submarine cable lands at Mtunzini, Kwazulu-Natal.

Afrihost halves ADSL prices from R60 to R29 per GB.

2010 Mweb launches uncapped ADSL.
2012 NAPAfrica is established as Africa’s first neutral internet exchange point with free peering.

Vodacom and MTN launch Long Term Evolution (LTE) – now known as 4G.

2014 Vumatel inaugurates FTTH in Parkhurst.
2015 Telkom releases uncapped LTE packages.
2019 Rain launches uncapped 5G.
2020 Vodacom and MTN launch 5G.
2021 MTN launches uncapped 5G.
2022 Icasa organizes the first auction of radio frequency spectrum in South Africa.

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