Telecommunications infrastructure in South Africa provides modern and efficient service to urban areas, including cellular and internet services. In 1997, Telkom, the South African telecommunications parastatal, was partly privatised and entered into a strategic equity partnership with a consortium of two companies, including SBC, a U.S. telecommunications company. In exchange for exclusivity (a monopoly) to provide certain services for 5 years, Telkom assumed an obligation to facilitate network modernisation and expansion into the unserved areas.
A Second Network Operator was to be licensed to compete with Telkom across its spectrum of services in 2002, although this license was only officially handed over in late 2005 and has recently begun operating under the name, Neotel. Four cellular companies provide service to over 20 million subscribers, with South Africa considered to have the 4th most advanced mobile telecommunications network worldwide. The four cellular providers are Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Virgin Mobile.
The first use of telecommunication in the Republic of South Africa was a single line telegraph connecting Cape Town and Simonstown. After Bell Labs' development of the telephone, the first undersea links were introduced, first connecting Durban and Europe, and soon after, the rest of the world. The network continued to develop through internal financing in a heavily regulated market as international technology developed. At this point, telephone services were operated by the South African Post Office. In the 1960s, South Africa was connected to 72 nations and total outgoing annual international calls numbered over 28,800.
In the 1990s, South Africa launched its mobile operations, underwritten by Telkom in partnership with Vodafone. This subsidiary grew to be Vodacom, which Telkom sold in late 2008 in preference for its own 3G network. Vodacom has a subscriber base of more than R45M, with an ARPU of more than R60 across both rural and urban subscribers. Vodacom, together with the other operators, have come under criticism in late 2009 by government and the public for high interconnect charges. This issue is currently being discussed by the Parliamentary Committee on Telecommunications.
In 2004, the Department of Communications redefined the Electronics Communications Act, which consilidated and redefined the landscape of telecommunications licensing in South Africa (both mobile and fixed). The Independent Communications Authority (ICASA) currently licenses more than 400 independent operators with the Electronic Communications Network License (with the ability to self-provision) as well as issuing Electronic Communications Service Licenses for service deployment over infrastructure in the retail domain.
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