Rollout of public Wi-Fi will be slow

2017-12-12 06:01

Public Wi-Fi, run on fibre optic cables, may only reach public facilities in the Far South in the next two to three years.

The City of Cape Town is currently preparing a formal business plan for the expansion of the public Wi-Fi service across the city. Public Wi-Fi installations have been done as part of a pilot project to determine the best technical and sustainable way to do this, explains Raelene Arendse, Mayco member for corporate services.

The pilot project included making the City’s SmartCape service available in all libraries, as well as providing access to the internet using commercial service providers at other facilities.

“However, deployment of reliable public Wi-Fi is also dependent on progress in deployment of the metro area network (broadband), as multi-user Wi-Fi needs sufficient bandwidth that can only be properly provided by fibre optic connections.

“Currently, the fibre optic infrastructure needed to support Wi-Fi is scheduled to arrive in Simon’s Town by June 2019 and in Ocean View by June 2020,” she says.

While the cost of installing a single Wi-Fi access point in a library is about R15 000, the main expense is borne by the metro area network cabling to get there, since laying fibre optic cables costs about R100 000 per km, Arendse says.

“As an example, the distance from Fish Hoek Library to Ocean View is about 8km; Fish Hoek itself is dependent on completion of the Plumstead to Fish Hoek route which is about 17km and is scheduled for completion by June 2019. The cost of the cables between different parts of Cape Town is shared between a number of buildings and is used for a wide variety of purposes other than providing Wi-Fi in libraries.

“If the cable had to be installed just to connect libraries and support Wi-Fi then the costs would not be justifiable,” she says.

The lack of network infrastructure in the Far South means sites are restricted to using low-speed lines, and public Wi-Fi is only available at Fish Hoek Civic Centre and Masiphumelele Library.

“Studies conducted worldwide have shown that digital inclusion through expanded access to the internet promotes social cohesion as well as employment and economic development,” Arendse says.

“For these reasons, the City has been providing the public with access to the internet via the SmartCape service since 2002. This initially involved installing fixed computers in all 103 libraries across the city.

“However, the number of people who can use this service concurrently is limited by the number of terminals and time is limited during the periods of high demand.

“Wi-Fi technology and the increasing popularity of Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones allow more people to use the service ­simultaneously.

“The City’s fibre optic infrastructure and the broadband network that it supports makes sufficient bandwidth available to cater for the increased bandwidth demands resulting from the increasing number of Wi-Fi users. Therefore, as libraries are progressively connected using fibre optic cabling, Wi-Fi access points are being installed at the same time.”

The City is also using its fibre optic infrastructure to provide public Wi-Fi by installing access points at other City buildings used by the public, such as clinics, cash halls, stadiums and vehicle licencing offices, Arendse says.

“This programme will be expanded if the proposed public Wi-Fi business plan is approved. These access points will provide access to the internet using commercial service providers, who will provide each user with 100MB of data free of charge each day.”

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