How South Africans too are embracing the Sharing Economy

One year on: How South Africans too are embracing the Sharing Economy

By Carolyn Holgate, GM of MWEB Connect

Last year my team and I predicted that the Sharing Economy would be one of the hottest trends to take off around the world. And it was. A shift towards organising economic and social life according to a sharing model – one that relies heavily on the power of the Internet – while not new, began to really take off on a global scale.

Millions of people all over the worldshifted their loyalty from traditional companies to the global businesses that made the concept of the Sharing Economypopular, such as Fon, Uber and AirBnB. And even more fundamentally, these companies and many other new thinkers like them started to re-lay the basic building blocks of commerce according to a new standard.

But has the idea of the Sharing Economy really taken off in South Africa?Were South Africans as open to embracing the global sharing phenomenon as their early adopter cousins on the other side of the world?

I certainly think so. Just over a year ago MWEBlaunched Fon, the world’s largest community-generated WiFi network, here in South Africa. We hoped South Africans would be open to the idea of Fon, but we also knew that South Africans might be a little less trusting than those who lived in more developed economies.

Fortunately, Fonoffers all the benefits that come with the Sharing Economy with none of the risk. Our users learnt that they could safely share a portion of their unused bandwidth with other Fon subscribers at no cost and as a result, get access to all the excess bandwidth of the total, global, customer eco-system when they leave their personal hotspot and enter another’s. It’s a crowd-sourced, community WiFi network that gives you access to the Internet wherever you are, be it in your home, a coffee shop or any of the 15million Fon hotspots across the globe.It brings more Internet to more people, just as Fon’s philosophy of ‘give a little, get a lot’ suggests.

While at first it took some consumer education about these benefits to prepare the market the message caught on fairly quickly. Within four months of launching last January, the South African Fon network – mostly across private homes and small businesses in SA – expanded to 21 000 active hotspots and today there are over 52 000 of these community-generated hotspots across the country.Of these, 42% are in Gauteng, 31% in the Western Cape and 14% in KZN, with the remaining 13% split across the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, Free State, and Northern Province. The take up farexceeded our expectations.

Andit seems we were not alone. Looking at the other local players such as Uber also tapping into the Sharing Economy, it seems they have had a good reception from the market as well. Better in fact than in many other developed and emerging markets they have entered.

Uber, which launched in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban in August 2013, and later also in Pretoria, seems to be gaining massive popular acceptance. The on-demand, app-powered private driver servicehas reportedly cornered some significant market share from the traditional taxi business. Uber uses technology to ensure that cars are available when people want them wherever and whenever they are. According to Uber’s Cape Town MD Anthony le Roux, the service – which creates entrepreneurship opportunities for its driver-partners – has generated 2000 jobs in SA since launching, with another 15 000 expected in the next two years. Globally Uber generates 50 000 jobs every month on its platform.

Since its launch in 2009 the Uber network has expanded to 300 cities in 60 countries spanning 6 continents. By Forbes Magazine’s calculation, despite facing some resistance around the world, the network is roughly adding a new city to its network every day. Le Roux says history proven that every truly revolutionary innovation was faced with stiff opposition from incumbents and rear-guard actions by regulators, but that despite a few individual, country-specific setbacks, “the future is bright for Uber and the Sharing Economy”. Uber believes there is political momentum in many countries to embrace technology services that address high unemployment and economic recovery and in South Africa specifically, one of its top goals is to create economic opportunity and benefits for the people of South Africa.

Another incredible success story, which like Uber is not without controversy but still seems to have gained enormous consumer acceptance across the globe, is that of AirBnB. Launched in 2008, the room-letting website is already available in 190 countries and 34 000 cities around the world. It already has over9400listings in various cities and towns across South Africa. Clearly South Africans are waking up to the financial, social and lifestyle benefits of tapping into this global network.

The new age rental service positions itself as a “trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world — online or from a mobile phone or tablet”. It offers people around the world the opportunity to monetise their living spaces and to play host to travelers from around the world, while offering travelers home-based accommodation at any price point by renting out anything from small apartments to gigantic mansions.

All of these examples bare testament to the growing popularity of ‘collaborative consumption’ – of swapping, sharingor renting out what is yours to a likeminded community.

The Sharing Economy is a growing global trend – and a sign of the democratising power of the Internet – that shows no signs of abating here and abroad. It is a trend that MWEB will continue to be a part of as an important manifestation of how the local community chooses to interact with the wonderful world of the Internet.


About Fon
Fon was founded in February 2006 by serial entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky with the goal of blanketing the world with WiFi. Today the company is a global WiFi leader with more than 15 million hotspots. Fon has offices in Madrid, London, Tokyo and New York. The company has partnerships with top telcos in all continents: BT (UK), Deutsche Telekom (Germany, Croatia and Romania), JT (Jersey Island), KPN (Netherlands), KT (South Korea), MWEB (South Africa), Netia (Poland), NOS (Portugal), Oi (Brazil), OTE (Greece), Proximus (Belgium), SFR (France), SoftBank (Japan), Telstra (Australia), Vodafone (Spain and Italy) and Wireless Gate (Japan). Innovating in the WiFi industry is part of Fon´s DNA. Our vision is to be “always on, always on the move”. For more information, please

For more information on MWEB’s Fon offering or to view the Fon usage map in South Africa, please visit or call 087 700 5000.*T&C’s apply

About MWEB
MWEB was founded in 1997 and is today South Africa’s leading Internet Service Provider (ISP). MWEB Connect provides internet access to approximately 350 000 customers, including residential, small business market and gaming customers. MWEB is owned by MultiChoice South Africa Holdings Limited, which has 30% Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment shareholders, and is a subsidiary of Naspers, a JSE-listed company.