Load shedding might impact South Africa's internet addiction

In 2022, South Africans spent more time on the internet compared to the rest of the world. With the increased load shedding, its internet usage might be affected this year.

Load shedding and internet usage in 2023
South Africa will experience at least 250 days of power blackout in 2023

Last year, internet users across the world spent 6 hours and 37 minutes on the internet every day; that is about 2,415 hours out of 8760 hours yearly, this is according to a report by Delaware-based virtual private network (VPN) platform Atlas VPN.

The 2022 report which covered internet usage trends worldwide among internet users aged 16 to 64 says that South Africans are more addicted to the internet exceeding the global average figure by three hours; about 9 hours and 38 minutes daily.

Brazil and the Philippines rounded off the top three nations in terms of internet addiction. Aside from South Africa, Egypt is the only African country in the top 30 countries that spend the most time on the internet.

Globally, daily online time decreased by 4.8% or 20 minutes compared to 2021, which was during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. 

By next year, South Africa intends to ensure internet access to every home. "Access to connectivity has become a basic need. It is as much a basic need as access to water and access to electricity – because it determines access to education, access to health, access to work which are fundamental for our survival," Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, the country's former minister of communications, said in 2021.

With at least 43.48 million internet users in January 2023, internet penetration in South Africa is currently about 72.3%. Kepios analysis indicates that internet users in South Africa increased by 357 thousand (+0.8%) between 2022 and 2023.

Data published by Ookla indicates that internet users in South Africa could have expected the following internet connection speeds at the start of 2023: median mobile internet connection speed via cellular networks at 36.70 Mbps and median fixed internet connection speed: 40.12 Mbps.

The aforementioned is a 20.2% and 34.9% increase from the previous year.

Load shedding and internet usage in South Africa

With the increased scheduled blackouts, or load shedding, across the country for as long as 10 hours per day at a time, South Africa's internet usage may decrease this year.

"When load shedding happens, many fibre users lose their network. This is because when the electricity comes back, too many users try to reconnect at the same time. This causes a significant delay because the systems that control the network become overwhelmed," Yasmine Jacobs, a South Africa-based journalist says. "It might take two to three hours for everyone to be connected again."

Last week, MTN South Africa CEO Charles Molapisi disclosed that the telecom company is accelerating investments in alternative power sources and will be completely off-grid at most sites in future. The company has started by investing R1.5 billion ($83 million) into a network resilience programme that will reduce the impact of load shedding.

"The investment will see us installing solar power, batteries, and generators, and enhancing security features at base stations to ensure improved network availability during load-shedding when many instances of theft and vandalism occur," Molapisi said.

This will result in an increased price for data and voice calls. The telco will temporarily halt building new network sites and rolling out 5G to focus on installing a backup power supply.

South Africa's Reserve Bank predicts that there will be 250 days of power blackout in 2023, which translates to an economic loss of $12.7 billion. There were more than 200 days of power rationing last year.

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