Stellenbosch is planning to provide free Wi-Fi Internet access to everyone in the town. This is according to Stellenbosch mayor Conrad Sidego.
Sidego said that they are planning to make Stellenbosch a Wi-Fi town– an initiative by Stellenbosch, Mxit and the University of Stellenbosch.
The service will be offered free of charge to anyone, and no registration for the service will be needed.
Large downloads will be prohibited, but all other services (like web surfing, messaging and VoIP services) will be supported.
Stellenbosch councillor and head of the municipality’s finance portfolio, Pieter Venter, explained that the trial network will go live on Friday (24 February).
This trial Wi-Fi network will cover the town centre, and will run for two to three weeks before extending the network to the greater Stellenbosch area.
The next phase involves rolling out the network to all populated areas within the Stellenbosch municipality. Venter explained that the network will reach as far as Franschhoek and Pniel.
The fast six-month rollout period may surprise people, but Venter explained that the core Wi-Fi network is already in place. This Wi-Fi network is already used to connect the municipal offices and carry municipal calls (hence cutting costs and limiting their reliance on Telkom).
All that needs to be done now it to put repeaters closer to residents to “fill in” the network and boost coverage. These repeaters will be put on lamp poles and on suitable high sites.
Venter said that they wanted to provide a free Wi-Fi network to Stellenbosch residents for years, but that Internet access costs (hence national and international bandwidth) was a problem. Mxit stepped in to solve this problem for Stellenbosch by making available their unused capacity.
“We are psyched to help promote Stellenbosch as the true tech capital of Africa. Although free Wi-Fi can never compete in performance with paid-for services, it does provide a magnet for creativity and engineers,” said Knott-Craig.
“Our primary value-add is the unused bandwidth coming into our data centre (770 million messages a day requires a fair amount of capacity),” said Knott-Craig.
Venter said that the Mxit bandwidth will serve their initial needs, and hopes that organizations such as the University of Stellenbosch and SEACOM will also assist when the need arises for additional bandwidth.
Venter highlighted that they do not want to compete against paid-for broadband services like ADSL or 3G, and is therefore limiting the service to 1Mbps and a 500MB daily usage cap.
Venter is confident that this initiative will not only boost Internet access and the economy of Stellenbosch, but also attract entrepreneurs and technical people to the region.