How to set up your own ISP in South Africa or other rural areas in Africa?

Friday, September 11, 2020

According to a research from, South Africa ranks 101 out of 206 countries on the  broadband internet cost in the world. In addition, Sub-Saharan Africa fared worst overall, with all but six of the 35 countries in the region with the most expensive broadband prices. However, the most expensive regions usually have slower broadband. This makes it even more uneconomic to access internet in South Africa and other sub-Saharan African regions.

If you are unfortunately in these regions, this article could help you escape your local ISP and get internet at a faster speed and probably at a much cheaper price.

Step 1- Apply for ISP license

Whether you plan to operate a physical network or resell the internet service in your region, you need to obtain a licence through ICASA (The Independent Communication Authority of South Africa). ICASA is responsible for the licensing of broadcasting services, electronic communication services and postal services.

If you are located in other African countries, you can find your local telecommunications regulatory bodies here.

The main service licences that ICASA issues can be categorised as follows:

Electronic Communications Service (ECS) licence

ECS licence is typically held by an ISP which does not operate its own network. This kind of ISP is also called VISP (virtual ISP) or Affinity ISP.

  • Class ECS licence

For a particular geographical area, district or local municipality

  • Individual ECS licence

For nationwide or provincial network

Electronic Communications Network Service (ECNS) licences

ECNS licence is held by ISPs that roll out and operate a physical network. There is no limit of the network technology, from wireless network to fibre optic cabling, from point to point to multi-point.

  • C-ECNS licence

For a particular geographical area, district or local municipality

  • I-ECNS licence

For nationwide or provincial network

Step 2- Apply for IP address and/or ASNs

In Africa, ISPs obtain ASN (Autonomous System Number) and allocations of IP addresses from AFRINIC. AFRINIC is the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for Africa and the Indian Ocean and ensures fair management and distribution of Internet number resources in the African region. For more information of how to apply for ASN, you may refer to this link.


Step 3- Interconnection via IP transit or peering (bandwidth supplier)

Most ISPs purchase transit from multiple providers (Tier 1 ISP and some larger Tier 2 ISPs), with different prices and service level agreements in place. However, peering at Internet Exchanges (IXs) to reduce costs and improve performance is also an important consideration.

As a matter of fact, peering is popular among smaller regional networks, broadband providers, content providers, hosting companies, and content delivery networks. Here is a list of active internet exchange points in Africa.

Step 4- Train your people properly

To provide your people with proper broadband/FTTx infrastructure training is necessary, before you start investing in network infrastructure. There are a lot of courses online. Just make sure you get the right course to address your needs.

Step 5- Build network infrastructure


No matter if you plan to operate a physical network or resell the internet service in your region, you need to invest in the followings.

  • Facility that can suitably house your hardware. Carrier neutral data centres could be an option as well, then you don’t need to invest in the facility.
  • Enterprise-level routers, switches and computers.

Other equipment you might also need.

  •  Power generators, for example UPS (power backup solution), diesel power generator and other electrical equipment. This is especially important if the electricity supply in your region is not stable.
  •  Cooling system
  •  Servers
  •  If you plan to sell the bandwidth to customers, you also need IP address planning, authentication mechanism, billing, bandwidth management, help desk and etc.

Building and oprating physical network needs more complicated infrastructure.

If you plan to operate your own network, instead of reselling internet service, you need to invest some more. Depending on what kind of network you plan to build, you need different kinds of infrastructure and equipment. Here we list two most common options.

  1. Lease bandwidth service and lay your own fibre cables
  • Buy or rent the technology required (Fibre To Home Switching Technology)
  • Lay fibre cables
  • Lay trenches
  1. Build a Wi-Fi network (WISP-wireless internet service provider)

Building a Wi-Fi network would be a lot cheaper than laying cables. Here we list 3 elements you need to build a Wi-Fi network.

  • Buying and Delivering Broadband
    1. Buy a T1 connection. This is best for smaller network.
    2. If T1 is impossible due to rurality, invest in commercial grade satellite downlink instead.
    3. Invest in DS3 if you have a larger network.
  • Base station antenna to transmit bandwidth
    1. Antenna for small network
    2. T1 or Mesh network for larger network
  • Equipment Required by network customers

If you plan to deliver broadband to your customers, you also need the following equipment.

  1.           T1 delivering broadband
    1. Router (to deliver data packets)
    2. Ethernet cabling and billing gateway
    3. Ethernet injector
    4. Cat5 cable to outdoor access point (in NEMA certified weatherproof box or CE certified in Europe) which contains the wireless radio
    5. Coaxial cable which carries the radio frequency to the antenna. Antenna then broadcasts signal.


Now you can start your own ISP.

If you have more questions about the infrastructure, feel welcome to contact our specialist at Telecom Easy.


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