It might seem like a contradiction in terms to see the words ‘internet’ and ‘Africa’ in the same sentence, much like ‘government’ and ‘intelligence’. While the concept of government intelligence is highly debatable the world over, you can get online with a mobile internet device in South Africa in more places and at higher speeds than you would think possible.
South Africa is considered to have the 4th most advanced mobile telecommunications networks worldwide, according to Wikipedia.
4G / LTE is available in many major urban areas delivering download speeds in excess of 100mbps with an appropriate device.
About 96% of the 1.2million Sq Km South African landmass is covered by at least 2G which can allow you to check email.
Almost 100% of the 45+ million strong South African population, including tourists, has access to a cellular network in some form or another.
In fact, I think it’s safe to assume that all other African countries offer some form of mobile internet, both cellular and Wi-Fi.
In 1996, South African cellular network Vodacom was the first in the world to introduce pre-paid on an Intelligent Network platform. This allows customers accounts to be debited while they speak. South Africa is pioneering a lot of mobile technology used in many other parts of the world, but particularly Africa. Such technologies have been invented and developed more out of necessity than any other reason.
The exponential growth in solar, cellular and satellite technology has made it much easier and more cost effective to cover large portions of the South African population with reasonably high speed mobile internet access where running cables just isn’t feasible. Prices are dropping and speeds increasing as technology advances. Huge mountains and vast distances tend to get in the way of signal, but it (the internet) is there none the less, almost everywhere.
Mobile internet allows you to get online and to tweet a picture of wild lions in a game park, such as The Kruger National Park while still in the actual park yourself, or to facebook a photo of you and your friends sipping a beer at the highest pub in Africa while still in the pub.
Mobile Internet – Getting online in South Africa
In order to enjoy local cellular data rates on any South African network you will need either a smart phone, cellular modem or USB dongle that uses a separate SIM card and which is not locked to your home network. All these devices are also readily available for hire or purchase in South Africa. If you do want to rent a device, all calls and data being billed to your credit card, the airport might be the only place you can do this.
The average price of a pre-paid SIM card at the airport is about R200.00, but this might come with extra call / data credit. If you can wait a little longer, SIM cards without airtime credit will be about R2.00 or less almost anywhere else; supermarkets, clothing stores, department stores etc.
Where micro or nano SIMS are not available, a strong pair of scissors and a steady hand usually does the trick. Try not to touch the copper contacts with your bare fingers, use your T-shirt or something. Use a permanent marker to mark the one cut corner. Buy 2 or 3 cards, without credit, in case you mess one up, they are cheap enough. Been there, done that. Lots of stores might actually have a proper card cutter and will help you with this and the general set up of your device. Bear in mind that foreign tourists will also need to show their passport in order to register their new pre-paid SIM card in South Africa. This is a fairly quick and painless process. All South Africans already know the drill.
There are 5 networks in South Africa with near equal coverage maps. At the time of publishing this article, Vodacom for example offers 3G in The Kruger Park, whereas MTN only offers 2G. This of course could have changed by the time you read this article. Check the coverage maps of the various networks and make your choice based on where you plan to spend your time in South Africa.
South African cell networks are also extremely competitive with frequent price wars. I use MTN when in South Africa, but mainly because I just like the colour yellow and I have been using them since 1996 and couldn’t be bothered to change as I have no significant complaints. The others are: Vodacom (red), Telkom (blue), Cell-C (black) and Virgin Mobile (red). Shop (Google) around, but at the end of the day, pricing and coverage can be very similar, so like me, I just chose based on colour. I did back in 1996 when there was only Vodacom and MTN, much less of a dilemma when faced with such a life changing choice.
Where’s the Wi-Fi?
Is there Wi-Fi? What’s the password? Some very common questions asked by tourists the world over.
Most restaurants, cafés and hotels around the world offer it for free or for a nominal charge to attract customers. South Africa is no exception. Where Wi-Fi is not free, Always On is a wireless internet provider that offers high speed hotspots at hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and cafés through out the country for a very reasonable price.
If there is no Wi-Fi at a particular restaurant or bar and you are in a group, try talking to each other 😉
So when considering South Africa as your next holiday destination, bear in mind that you can get connected, almost everywhere and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.