Telecommunications Infrastructure in South Africa
15 March 2012
Eversheds - March 12, 2012
South Africa, the country that invented touchtone dialling, boasts an outstanding telecommunications infrastructure and a diversity of print and broadcast media. With a network that is 99% digital and includes the latest in fixed-line, wireless and satellite communications, South Africa has the most developed telecommunications network in Africa. Telecommunications is one of the fastest growing sectors of South Africa's economy, driven by rapid growth in mobile telephony and broadband connectivity.
The Electronic Communications Act, 2005 seeks to remove policies that hinder the development of cross-sector applications, services and businesses. The Act enables the sector to reflect the integration of telecommunications with information technology (IT), broadcasting and broadcasting signal distribution. It also empowers citizens with better access to knowledge and information. The Telecommunications Amendment Act, 2001 has enabled the Department of Communications to liberalise the South African telecommunications market, increase competition and, as a by-product, stimulate the sector to bring down the costs of communications and remove constraints on growth.
Two of the main regulatory bodies in the telecommunications sector in South Africa include Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA), and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). USAASA was established in terms of Section 58 of the Telecommunications Act, 1996. The main role of the agency is to promote universal service and access to ICTs services for all South Africans. It also facilitates and offers guidance in evaluating, monitoring and implementing schemes, which propose to improve universal access and service. In addition, it is involved in setting up telecentres, which provide ICT services, especially in rural areas, on a cost-recovery basis. ICASA is the regulator for the South African communications, broadcasting and postal services sector. ICASA was established by an Act of statute, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Act of 2000, as amended. Its mandate is spelled out in the Electronic Communications Act for the licensing and regulation of electronic communications and broadcasting services, and by the Postal Services Act for the regulation of the postal sector. Enabling legislation also empowers ICASA to monitor licensee compliance with license terms and conditions, develop regulations for the three sectors, plan and manage the radio frequency spectrum as well as protect consumers of these services.
South Africa is one of the fastest growing mobile communications markets in the world. As of 2009, there were over 46.4 million mobile users in South Africa, ranking the country 26th in terms of subscriber numbers. Growth in South Africa's mobile market is particularly strong, standing at 50% per annum and making the country's GSM market the 4th fastest growing worldwide. In recent years, South Africa has witnessed tremendous growth in the cell phone industry. South Africa has five operators, namely Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Virgin Mobile.