Using mobile, SA masses hit the internet — typical of emerging markets

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If you a new internet user, you are likely to be young, black, and earn under R1 500 (US$170) a month. Overall 66% of the 34% of South African adults connected to the internet speak an African language at home.

These were some of the findings of a comprehensive and nationally representative study into the use of the internet in South Africa, from the South Africa Network Society Survey in collaboration with Research ICT Africa.

The report, written by Indra de Lanerolle, a visiting research associate at the University of the Witwatersrand, claims to be the first detailed report on South African internet use based on a representative sample of all South African adults. At the launch of the report, at the Wits Arts Museum in Johannesburg South Africa, Indra de Lanerolle pointed out that this was a sociological study to understand behaviour, and not purely a technological study.

The research was conducted in face-to-face interviews in multiple languages of a sample of approximately 1 600 adults, aged 15 years and older, selected through a national random selection process.

Some of the key findings of the report state that there are more than 12-million adults using the internet in South Africa; if current growth rates are maintained more than 50% of the population will be online by 2014; more people now go online daily at 22%, than read a newspaper daily at 17%; seven out of 10 internet users use their phones to go online; and nearly four out of 10 new users rely almost entirely on their phones to get online.

That mobile statistic in particular is typical of other emerging market countries. Mobile has already overtaken desktop as the primary means of connecting to the internet in both China and India.

The report does however also stress the importance of public places such as libraries, internet cafes, schools and colleges when it comes to getting new internet users online.

There is a heavy bias toward the urban population, with 76% of internet users living in urban areas. Of these, 65% have a secondary education. A mere 26% hold a degree or diploma, and a tiny five percent have any postgraduate education. Mobile phones were found to be the key driver of the uptake of the internet in South Africa, as over 50% of new users in the last two years, said they got their first experience of the internet by means of a mobile phone.

The report found that whilst a massive proportion of South Africans have a mobile phone at 84%, only 18% own a computer. Social networking was also a key component with 66% of internet users being signed up for one or more social networks.

A key finding of the report is that 34% of adults are now using the internet. This is a massive increase from the last study in 2008, when only 15% of adults were online. Of critical importance to the future growth of the user base is the finding that the lack of proficiency in English would hold back usage. The report found that one in five surveyed said they did not read or write English proficiently.

The other key issue in connecting the remaining 66% of the adult population, was found to be access, with only 4% of this group actually owning a computer and 52% reporting that they would be interested in using the internet if it were available within walking distance of where they lived.

The top five reasons for going online were found to be:

  • To get information
  • To socialise
  • For study
  • For work or business
  • To look for a job

The report made it clear that the internet is now mainstream among South African adults. There does not appear to be a significant lag between connecting to the internet and taking part in search and social networking activities.

The internet has become a key resource for a good proportion of South African Adults, who connect daily, despite their predominantly low-income. The web in South Africa is also overwhelming text-based, due to cost of access and the medium of such access, which is predominantly mobile.

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  • http://twitter.com/indradl indra de lanerolle

    Thanks Steve for coming to the launch and for the excellent summary of the report. I would just like to clarify a point which I think arises from a confusion between thinking about a majority of Internet users vs thinking about a majority of the population. What the report says is that if you are a new Internet user, you are likely to be young, school educated and be living on less than R1,500. It also says that most Internet users now speak an African language at home. but there are a lot of South Africans on incomes below R1,500 and the growth in usage amongst this group appears to be a relatively new phenomenon so its not true to say that ‘If you are young, black, and earn under R1 500 (US$170), a month you are likely to be on the internet.’ According to our research about a quarter of people living on less than R1,500 per month and on more than R432 – the poverty line defined in the National Development Plan – are Internet users.

    A comment on mobile – our research does support a picture of a thriving mobile Internet, and mobile often gets attention as a vital means for people to get online. However the report also points to the importance of shared access: Internet Cafes, schools, colleges and libraries for example. Many of those we are calling the New Wave are making use of these shared (and sometimes free) facilities.
    Indra de Lanerolle,

    The New Wave author

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