Connecting the city through Wi-Fi

2017-03-14 06:04
Capetonians can get free internet at more than 500 Wi-Fi hotspots provided by the City of Cape Town.

Capetonians can get free internet at more than 500 Wi-Fi hotspots provided by the City of Cape Town.

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As the demand for internet access increases, Capetonians are spoilt for choice with more than 500 Wi-Fi hotspots at several locations across the city. The best news, of course, is that it’s free.

Over the last few years, the City of Cape Town has made significant strides in their plans to bring free Wi-Fi to residents and in this week’s edition of “Municipal Matters”, People’s Post speaks to Raelene Arendse, Mayco member for corporate services, to find out more.

The story of the municipality’s free Wi-Fi service goes back more than 10 years. Arendse says the first report to motivate for the so-called broadband project was tabled at a Mayco meeting in 2006.

The initial pilot project was eventually approved in 2008 and construction work started in 2010.

“The pilot project connected City buildings and was completed in 2012. The benefits justified a wider rollout that started in 2014. The Cape Town-wide metro area network will be completed by June 2021.”

She says the aim of the project is for the City to build its own telecommunication network capability.

This, she says, in turn helps to reduce the cost of telecommunications services, expands the available bandwidth and provides a more effective and efficient network service in the city to ensure a more cost-effective service.

“One of the ways in which the project delivers on its economic development goal is to provide internet access to the public using Wi-Fi.”

To date, 581 Wi-Fi hotspots have been installed at 196 locations.

Arendse says this number is set to increase as there are plans to roll out 60 new Wi-Fi zones per year.

“Thus far, public Wi-Fi zones have mainly been created in City-owned buildings which are open to the public. This includes libraries, clinics, cash offices, halls and other venues. All libraries already have public access to the internet using the SmartCape service; Wi-Fi is just an extension of that. From July Wi-Fi zones will also start to be installed at other public spaces, such as parks and sports facilities.”

The first outdoor public Wi-Fi hotspot was installed in Khayelitsha in 2012.

As with any Wi-Fi service, Arendse says, the available Wi-Fi networks will show up on your phone, laptop and other mobile devices when you are near the Wi-Fi zone.

“These are currently identified as ‘Always On’ (a commercial provider) and ‘SmartCape’. The City is in the process of expanding the number of commercial operators offering internet access through the City’s Wi-Fi hotspots. A user can click on the available Wi-Fi network and follow the prompts to connect.”

Each user can use up to 100MB of data for free each day from either service. Arendse says the amount of data is limited because bandwidth is still an expensive resource.

“In our pilot project we found that if we allowed users more bandwidth then a few of them would end up using most of it, denying the majority of any bandwidth at all. For the moment, 100MB per day seems to be adequate and it allows more people to have access to the internet for free.”

She says the City’s public Wi-Fi project is built on the platform of the metro area network which to date has cost the municipality just over R500m.

“The actual cost of the hotspots and their connections is no more than R25m. Without the metro area network, the rollout of this service would have been unaffordable.”

To check whether you are near a hotspot, turn the Wi-Fi on your cellphone, laptop or tablet on the next time you visit a City facility such as a clinic, library or cash office.

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