Wi-Fi 'like water in the desert'

2014-01-27 12:30
Alan Knott-Craig jnr is pushing the rollout of free Wi-Fi. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

Alan Knott-Craig jnr is pushing the rollout of free Wi-Fi. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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Cape Town - Wi-Fi represents the most cost-effective means of connecting people to the internet, an NGO has said.

Unlike 3G mobile networks, Wi-Fi is cheap and easy to deploy, giving people access to the internet, Project Isizwe told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"If bandwidth is like water, then Africa is a desert with Perrier vending machines everywhere. If you have money, you're fine. If you don't have money, you're dying of thirst," said Alan Knott Craig jnr, the brains behind the project.

Knott Craig, serial entrepreneur and formerly CEO of social network Mxit, said that despite massive penetration of cellphones in Africa, fewer than 10% used the internet.

According to the GSM Association's Sub-Saharan Mobile Economy report of 2013, the deployment of 3G services is at 7.6% in the region, far below the global average for developing markets of 17.3%.

Unique subscribers

In SA though, the deployment of 3G is 39.3%, but Knott Craig said that relatively few subscribers would be able to afford the data traffic on these services.

"The problem is that 3G is expensive. Why? Because it's a proprietary technology that requires huge capital expenditure and detailed planning, which in turn requires deep pockets and significant human resources. Add a mark-up and you have amongst the most expensive data costs on the planet."

The GSMA said that even though mobile phone penetration in high on the basis of the number of SIM cards in circulation, the real rate of unique subscribers was much lower than the number suggested.

"We've gone behind the headline SIM penetration and looked at unique subscriber penetration. And we found that while SIM penetration on average across Sub-Saharan Africa is about 61%, people have multiple SIM cards - it's 31% on a unique subscriber basis," Peter Lyons, director of Public Policy Africa Middle East at the GSM Association told News24.

Knott Craig pioneered free Wi-Fi as CEO of Mxit and cited the example of the City of Tshwane which, through the NGO, has begun rolling out a programme of Wi-Fi access for residents in key areas.

"The City has recently partnered with Project Isizwe to rollout free Wi-Fi throughout Tshwane. The benefits to the local community are numerous, including access to information, education; employment opportunities. There is no administrative burden for the City and the solution is easy to use," the city said in a statement when the Wi-Fi project was launched.

Broadband network

The City of Cape Town is also investigating the feasibility of a city-wide Wi-Fi mesh with a pilot project being run Khayelitsha and Mitchell's Plain on the city's outskirts.

In Johannesburg, officials have delivered on a broadband network that aims to provide internet access to residents at a low cost as well as facilitate easier communication between the city and residents.

"The net result is that a municipality can now afford to provide citizens access to the Internet via free Wi-Fi access. It may not always be as fast and reliable as 3G, but it's better than nothing, and to a person standing at the bottom of the pyramid it's like an oasis in the desert," said Knott Craig.


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Check out this YouTube video from RT.com on whether internet access is a human right.
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