Public Wi-Fi is key to getting SA online - TechCentral

Public Wi-Fi is key to getting SA online

Regard-van-der-Berg-180Wi-Fi hotspots are popping up everywhere, and access is no longer uncommon in public spaces. Even minibus taxis will soon become Wi-Fi hotspots, with nearly 90% of taxi body Santaco’s fleet earmarked for Wi-Fi deployment over the next three years. This news must be welcomed as it will expose many more South Africans to the Internet, often for the first time.

Santaco, which is working with Wi-Taxi and Telkom to launch the service to minibus taxi commuters, will allow millions of people to get free (albeit limited to 50MB/month) Internet access while on a taxi or waiting for transport at a rank.

The project will raise awareness about the Internet among consumers who have been unable to use it until now because of the costs involved in connecting using the mobile operators’ networks.

Affordability still plays an inhibiting role and, without lower prices, these projects won’t lead to meaningful changes in behaviour. There is no information yet regarding how much commuters will be charged for data once their 50MB/month runs out, but considering the target audience and South Africa’s Wi-Fi landscape, the prices need to be set low.

Already, Telkom has competitive Wi-Fi deals. Telkom Mobile customers on certain packages receive “free” and unlimited Wi-Fi access, while prepaid users get “free” access with a data cap based on the amount of airtime they buy. A R100 or higher voice top-up gives users 10GB of free Wi-Fi data valid for 30 days.

Say what you want about Telkom’s broadband strategy in the last decade, the company is certainly putting its infrastructure to good use by offering these unlimited data packages free of charge. If commuters are able to make use of Telkom’s Wi-Fi packages on Wi-Taxi’s infrastructure, we suspect this will prove to be a particularly popular option.

The taxi initiative is not the first attempt to bring Wi-Fi Internet to the masses. Project Isizwe, led by former iBurst and Mxit CEO Alan Knott-Craig, is already enjoying some success in Pretoria with the completion of phase one of a roll-out plan there. More recently, the non-profit has announced plans to expand in the Western Cape, too.

Wi-Fi on wheels

Wi-Fi on wheels

There is also a large Wi-Fi deployment in Stellenbosch, backed by Mxit (and not associated with Project Isizwe) and the university there. Residents get five minutes of free access, after which data bundles can be purchased, with prices ranging from R35 for 500MB to R400 for 12GB.

Although these services do not yet reach South Africa’s rural communities, the Santaco project will go a long way in filtering Wi-Fi technology into these areas.

The increase in the number of South Africans who will go online more regularly as a result will have a positive impact on the economy. It will probably also lead to further Wi-Fi deployments — a virtuous cycle.  — © 2014 NewsCentral Media

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