Here's how free public Wi-Fi is growing in SA

It is in the business interest of firms to offer customers free Wi-Fi. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
It is in the business interest of firms to offer customers free Wi-Fi. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town – Public Wi-Fi is growing in South Africa, despite radically different implementation strategies.

In Cape Town, policy is aimed at ensuring that the city owns the infrastructure while in Tshwane, the speed of roll-out is dependent on a “rental agreement”.

READ: Cape Town, Tshwane drive radically different Wi-Fi plans

Here is the City of Cape Town’s Wi-Fi programme by the numbers:

- 206 hotspots

- 100MB free data allocation

- 30Mbps connection speed per user

- 608 000 unique users registered

- R10m annual budget

In Cape Town, officials have highlighted the need to own the deployment infrastructure.

“It is clear that the city’s chosen approach to enabling access to telecommunications services and the internet is financially sustainable for the long term and is not dependent on the survival of private sector organisations,” councillor Xanthea Limberg said in a statement.

READ: Tshwane targets metros with digital playbook

The City of Tshwane’s Wi-Fi programme by the numbers:

- 780 hotspots

- 500MB free data allocation

- 15Mbps average connection speed

- 1.6 million users, 80 000 devices per day

- R180m annual budget

Tshwane has partnered with non-governmental organisation Project Isizwe to deploy its Wi-Fi programme.

“Not only does Tshwane offer free Wi-Fi, but it also provides local uncapped video on demand: Wi-Fi TV - local news stories produced by local journalists,” Alan Knott-Craig jnr head of Project Isizwe told Fin24.

Mobile networks in South Africa are constrained in the rollout of high speed networks by the lack of appropriate spectrum.

READ: Vodacom and MTN want action on spectrum

Wi-Fi, which operates in an unlicensed spectrum, has emerged as a convenient stop-gap for mobile broadband connectivity.

“Wi-Fi is a transformative technology that makes life convenient for some, but it is also the only affordable, high-performance broadband access technology for many South Africans,” said the Wireless Access Providers Association.

“The association, representing over 220 operators of Wi-Fi networks and technology companies, calls for government in SA to officially recognise Wi-Fi technology as ‘the third pillar’ of a national broadband strategy, as articulated in the National Broadband Policy,” Wapa added.

SA has a self-imposed deadline of 2020 for universal mobile broadband access and Wi-Fi is often used to facilitate internet connectivity at lower cost than comparable mobile networks.

“The more important application in a national context is the so-called ‘point to point’ or ‘point to multipoint’ Wi-Fi, as a low cost, reliable and high-performance last-mile or backhaul link. This is what most Wapa members use it for, to connect a home, school or small business to a base station located on a high-site over many kilometres,” said Wapa chair Tim Genders.

Tshwane and Cape Town may be the current leaders in the race to deploy Wi-Fi but the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality in 2015 launched an ambitious programme to connect 695 buildings.

Project Isizwe has also been given the mandate to replicate its Tshwane model in Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Mangaung.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to us who deploys free Wi-Fi, it only matters that it happens. The future of our country depends on unfettered and equal access to information,” said Knott-Craig.

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