Mobile surpasses traditional web in South Africa

It’s what we predicted would happen. In fact it’s what we thought had happened sometime ago, but here are some authoritative figures that confirm it.

According to a piece in Bizcommunity, Rick Joubert of Vodafone estimates there are now at least 9,5-million mobile wap users (read: mobile web) in the country. These are combined user figures on all the local cellphone networks. In comparison, Online Publisher Association (OPA) statistics of traditional desktop web SA users, puts the local-only usership figure at around 5,7-million users. (Audited Nielsen//Netratings). Arthur Goldstuck’s figures on general internet use are also near the OPA estimates, at around 4.4-million for 2008.

Now that’s quite a difference. So it means we now have around double the amount of cellphone net users in the country as opposed to classic desktop internet — and there is also every indication that the gap will grow bigger, given the reach and penetration rates of mobile phones, and the paradoxical situation whereby mobile internet access is amongst the world’s cheapest here, yet traditional desktop internet access among the world’s most expensive.

South Africa Internet Access*

Mobile web 9,5m Sept 2008 Figures from 3 networks,
via Vodafone
Desktop web 4,4m-5,7m July 2008 Figures from 37+ sites, via OPA;
Goldstuck via ISPs.

Read the rather extensive footnote disclaimer on these figures.*

These figures are significant, but obviously no surprise. Some will counter that we are measuring apples with oranges and that we cannot compare the two figures as they are arrived at via different methodologies. Also the Vodafone figures are unaudited. However, I think this tells a broad story — with supporting evidence.

We heard about Japan some time ago where around 70% of internet access happens via mobile phones. Also we’ve been hearing from various quarters about South Africa showing up all over the world in stats, from Admob to Opera, as a major mobile player. Opera mobile reported that for July 2008, South Africa jumped to 6th place in their top 10 list of countries, displacing China and the United States respectively. We wait to see if it’s the early adopter effect typical of this country, or something more sustainable. There is a feeling it’s more of the latter this time.

* OPA figures include office and home user duplication. They are mainly SA users. Figures audited by Nielsen//Netratings and represent UB’s of top 37+ online publishers in SA.
* Vodafone figures not audited. Figures appear to be only from network stats and not broader industry, so figures may actually be conservative. It’s not clear in Vodafone’s figures whether these are mobile internet, or mobile web (a subset of mobile internet).

Comments (14)

  1. Saw the same article today… found it very interesting. I wonder how many of the smaller publishing and content providers are actually even aware of this?

    The fact is people are not reading as much deep content anymore, and a mobile is perfect for that, quick on the spot snippets. The only issue we have in my opinion is that we want the mobile experience to be the same as the desktop, it shouldn’t be. The format needs to be completely altered, I mean yes, I can browse a full website on my iPhone, but its actually an irritation scrolling and zooming…

    Interesting to see how it plays out…

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 6:14 pm #
  2. oh yeah…nice post : )

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 6:17 pm #
  3. Paul Jacobson wrote::

    I think it won’t be long before the number of people accessing the Web via a mobile phone/device will greatly dwarf the number of traditional web access users. It must surely be a matter of time before better equipped mobile devices make it into the marketplace and the barrier to access drops low enough to make it a no brainer.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 6:51 pm #
  4. Jarred Cinman wrote::

    Is there somewhere where “mobile internet users” is actually defined? I mean does this mean people actually browsing the web on their phone, or just with the capability to? And does it include MXit as “mobile web” or actual firing up a browser and surfing?

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 8:10 pm #
  5. matt wrote::

    @Jarred — i think you raise a good point. I’m guilty of often referring to the two interchangeably as there is an assumption of browsing during internet access.

    It’s a reasonable assumption for desktop internet, however on the cellphone you could argue that many access their email without browsing the web, and that is not clear in Rick Joubert’s assessment. In fact he often refers to it as “mobile internet” and then again later as the “mobile web” in his BizComm article. So valid point, and I made some changes.

    However, I do think it paints a broad picture.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 9:42 pm #
  6. Joy-Mari wrote::

    So these figures are only for wap sites and do not include statistics on mobile browsers?

    Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 10:11 am #
  7. Rick Joubert wrote::

    Hi, well as my piece is the source of the current conversation let me clarify / correct a few comments

    1. the estimate provided in the piece is my personal estimate and in no way represents an official Vodacom/Vodafone view
    2. I developed the estimate based on the obvious insight I have into the Vodacom WAP gateway activity and then extrapolating for the relative market shares of the local network operators
    3. the numbers are representative of unique monthly users
    4. the numbers represent WAP usage and are very much representative of usage of the mobile web

    I believe the numbers are conservative and have validated them with various other players incl the global ad networks.

    They also exclude mobile INTERNET access via a range of J2ME (JAVA) and Symbian applications as well as access to the “real” web via browser transcoders like Opera MINI – so most definitely conservative.

    I think the more important number in my piece though is that 70% of the mobile web user base do NOT have access to the fixed internet – for me that’s the part publishers should really be focusing on.

    Interested in unpacking this in more detail – feel free to contact me at

    Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 10:39 am #
  8. i like how they use “around” and “at least” when they quote stats. truth is we’ll never really know. i have a 22-year old stepson who owns one simcard for each network. he uses one for MXIT, one for very personal calls and one for general calling and receiving.

    How would they position someone like him in their stats? He uses the network but doesn’t use data on e.g CellC (we all know their data coverage is pathetic). Would CellC count him as a data subscriber because he has an HSDPA-enabled sim?

    My guess is that we’ll never really know. So all we can do is continue using words liek “at least, around, approximately” et al.

    Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 12:04 pm #
  9. biobot wrote::

    WAP surfing sucks. In purely user-experience terms browsing on any phone (except an iPhone) is like surfing a wave on a door.

    Friday, November 21, 2008 at 11:23 am #
  10. Zashkaser wrote::

    I might change for the look kind of sexy for a Linux distro.

    Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 6:44 pm #
  11. lora wrote::

    Plantar Fasciitis; common but treatable

    Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 10:19 am #
  12. nikitichna wrote::

    When and where to watch OKC

    Monday, September 7, 2009 at 10:36 am #
  13. Seporinos wrote::

    Достаточно интересная статья. Думаю стоит добавить в избранное для дальнейшего изучения

    Monday, September 7, 2009 at 11:31 pm #
  14. Flirtomir wrote::

    Хотел посоветоваться с уважаемой публикой! Меня интересует все статьи данной направленности. Есть у кого?

    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 7:30 pm #

Trackbacks/Pingbacks (8)

  1. Beyond dead trees | Paul Jacobson on Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 5:00 am

    […] versions too which is essential in a country with such low desktop/laptop access penetration and ever increasing mobile access to the Web (I believe that any Web publisher who hasn’t given serious thought to making their content […]

  2. Soccer Laduma - A Rich Mobile Experience | Wap Review on Friday, November 21, 2008 at 6:37 am

    […] edition of a weekly newspaper that’s the country’s largest soccer publication.  South Africa has  twice as many peolpe using the mobile web as the fixed web so it’s no surprise that Soccer Laduma’s four month old mobile site gets more traffic than its […]

  3. Mobile Buz! » Soccer Laduma - A Rich Mobile Experience on Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    […] weekly newspaper that’s the country’s largest soccer publication.  South Africa has  twice as many people using the mobile web as the fixed web so it’s no surprise that Soccer Laduma’s four month old mobile site gets more traffic […]

  4. […] An article in this morning’s Times, cleverly positioned next to a marketing blurb about an increase in traffic to their website, says that South African bloggers are thriving in cyberspace. A new study released this week by World Wide Worx claims that 4.5 million South Africans are now online and that over 5,000 are consistently blogging. (According to Rick Joubert of Vodafone, another 9.5 million connect to the internet with their mobile phones.) […]

  5. […] Mobile Web has become a global phenomenon. In Africa, more and more Internet users are acccessing the Web everyday via their mobile phones. In South Africa, there are now at least 9,5 million mobile wap users, according to an article in Bizcommunity published in Matthew Buckland’s blog. […]

  6. […] they missed the mark Mobile Considering how important mobile is in this country (double the desktop web audience), you would think this would be a key area? I don’t see mobile pushed prominently on their […]

  7. Digg for mobiles on Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    […] compare that to South Africa, where Matthew Buckland cites a Vodacom report that indicates that twice as many South Africans access the Internet via […]

  8. / 9.5m vs 5.7m on Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    […] vs PC numbers of users in South Africa –  claims via Matthew Buckland. I would like to know what they did online, and for how long. Nevertheless, it’s a striking […]