South Africans are moving to smaller towns – and bringing faster internet with them

 ·13 Feb 2022

More South Africans are moving to smaller ‘zoom towns’ along the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal coastlines – a change that is being reflected in faster internet speeds, says the Wireless Access Providers Association (WAPA).

While semigrating residents can expect to pay lower levies than in major cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town, remote-working has historically been hindered by a lack of internet connectivity, the group said.

“Fibre is often touted as the holy grail of connectivity,” said Paul Colmer, executive committee member of WAPA.  “Don’t get me wrong. It’s very good, when it’s available, and when the service hasn’t been interrupted by someone digging up the cable.

“But it’s not the only way to get reliable, high-speed internet to properly support remote work and, quite frankly, it just isn’t available in a lot of places and takes a lot of time and effort to get there,” he said.

Colmer, who lives in a small town along South Africa’s Wild Coast, noted that residents of smaller towns often complain that the big providers don’t want their business enough to give them fixed LTE, cellular data coverage can be patchy and is the most expensive way to connect in South Africa.

More satellite options are coming online for consumer services but can also be costly, he said.

“What a lot of our members and other service providers are doing now is bringing fibre to a high site in, or near, the town. They use the tower to broadcast high-speed wireless broadband to connect everyone who wants it.

“They either throw a wireless ‘blanket’ over the area, just like your router at home but on a much bigger and more powerful scale, and anyone can connect to it. Or they shoot a high-powered wireless beam at your dish so you get safe, secure, broadband Internet. The fibre then connects the tower to the rest of the country.”


This approach is rapidly gaining popularity because it leverages the strengths of fibre and the strengths of wireless, combining the two into a powerful broadband service that’s faster, cheaper, and more reliable. Particularly for people in out-of-the-way places that have been neglected until now, Colmer said.

It doesn’t require contractors to trench all over town. There’s no risk of digging up and ruining pavements, roads, water pipes, and other infrastructure such as electricity cables.

“The business model makes sense,” said the chief executive of a regional service provider in Ladysmith who wishes to remain anonymous.

“Rather than having a swarm of fibre providers all competing with each other, their contractors digging over one another’s and the town’s infrastructure, you get a positive outcome that’s good for everyone. Towns attract new ratepayers, people can get connectivity for entertainment and work, and service providers get new customers, even the fibre providers. It’s a win-win-win. What could be better?”

Hotspots for these new developments include smaller coastal towns in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal but the model is catching on in many other areas.

Anyone can find one of these providers by using the Find a Provider search tool on WAPA’s website, which is a non-profit industry association here.

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