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Will growth in South African Internet usage improve user experience?

According to the Internet Access in South Africa 2010 study, conducted by World Wide Worx and jointly sponsored by Cisco, the number of South African Internet users passed the 5-million mark for the first time, breaking through the 10% mark in Internet penetration for the country. The study shows that the South African Internet user base grew by 15% last year, from 4.6-million to 5.3-million, and is expected to grow at a similar rate in 2010. Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, says that the growth will continue in 2010 and that the 6 million mark will be reached by the end of the year.

While the number of Internet users were stagnant between 2002 and 2007, the contributing factors to this growth are the landing of a SEACOM last year, grants of Electronic Communications Network Service licenses to over 400 organisations and also a continued uptake of broadband connectivity by small and medium enterprises.

Reshaad Sha, Senior Manager for Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, comments that South African consumers and businesses are demanding access to online applications and services that can only be experienced via high speed connectivity, such as fibre-optic networks. He says the year ahead will see the proliferation of high speed connectivity materialising more widely than ever before.

How can this affect our experience online?
The recent reduction in broadband costs is having a huge affect on the use of internet in South Africa and will continue to do so during 2010. Cost reductions make high speed connectivity more affordable, not only to businesses but also the normal man on the street. Therefore, I would expect to see a huge growth trend in the overall Internet usage for South Africa in 2010.

More affordable connectivity will allow an increasing number of users to go online and the demand will affect connectivity from homes, the office and mobile devices.

Let’s face it, Internet costs in South Africa have not been the cheapest and you still get people who are afraid of spending hours online, afraid of the cost, therefore limiting the time they spend online.

That picture is going to change dramatically and should cause an influx of many “inexperienced” consumers who will be flocking to social networks or have the need to establish themselves online as first time users. At home, many folks will acquire a connection for the first time or they may be changing from a dialup to broadband or even from a small broadband package to one with larger upload and download speeds. Whatever the scenario, it simply means that more families will start spending time online and more people will be exposed to the Internet. This is laying the foundation for many of the younger generations to come.

There will also be small companies who will swop their dialup’s for better connectivity and their staff will increase their time spent online, moving away from just connecting to check mail or reading the odd news article to spending hours browsing and researching. These smaller companies will also look at getting themselves some kind of online presence (if they don’t have one) or will seek to improve their current site. Bigger companies who are Internet savvy will similarly upgrade their broadband connectivity while at the same time invest in improving the upload/download capacity of the server where their sites are hosted.

I don’t expect marketing strategies to change much from what we’ve seen in 2009. The increase of numbers in the market space as well as the improved speed of broadband will certainly make companies realise the potential and they will try to take advantage of it by either improving their own stable or by renewing/continuing their marketing efforts.

I do foresee that an increasing number of individuals and corporates will look at their own websites, knowing that previous limitations regarding high quality visuals or video streaming won’t be there any longer and they will start to look at implementing improved interactivity to their sites.

I see this as a little chain of events. Cheaper rates and improved broadband speeds will increase the demand in connectivity while at the same time improve the quality of websites and web applications online which in turn will also provide online marketing and design agencies the opportunity to improve the quality of sites and services.

So am I saying that cheaper, faster internet connections will bring better experience online? I guess I am. It may not happen overnight, but by the end of 2010 we could see some improvement in general which will just set the trend for 2011. Only time will tell.

How can this affect our behaviour?
One thing about human nature is that we either get used to something and accept it for what it is, or we get dissatisfied and look for something better. When we discover that we can get a better solution for a fraction of the cost we are currently paying, or a faster broadband service for the same price, we jump at the chance. We will invest time and money to explore it, play with it and make it our own. This happens to individuals who operate independantly as well as individuals who make decisions for large corporates. Whether we are accessing the Internet from our homes, the office or our mobiles, we will always want something better, faster and cheaper to power us into whatever we do online.

In conclusion, I completely agree with Mr. Reshaad Sha from Cisco. In 2010, South African consumers and businesses will demand a higher level of access to online applications and services as well as better experiences via high speed connectivity. This is putting the responsibility on Service Providers and Design/Marketing Agencies alike to make it all happen. Let’s hope they all respond in kind.

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