Small towns are reaping the benefits of having free internet access, whilst large metropolitan cities appear to be lagging behind.
Stellenbosch residents will soon be able to access wireless internet in the city after the service went live on Friday. Though still in a trial phase, free Wi-Fi is currently available at the town centre and will run for two to three weeks before extending the network to the greater Stellenbosch area.
Connectivity will however be limited to 1Mbps and a 500MB usage cap per user. The downloading of large files will also be prohibited.
The initiative is being driven by the Municipality of Stellenbosch, the University of Stellenbosch and mobile social networking site, MXit.
Whilst this kind of service is not a new concept to South Africa, MXit CEO Alan Knott-Craig believes it’s an indicator of how the execution of ICT services should be done. He says that larger initiatives are a lot more difficult to manage, as too many parties tend to be involved.
“Such projects are made a lot easier when local municipalities and private sector companies’ work together to provide services to the local community,” said Knott-Craig.
He adds that MXit will be spending “a few million rand” on the project by supporting the Wi-Fi network through its data centre. Knott-Craig however has no intentions of launching a similar service in any other towns in South Africa, saying that MXit is not an internet service provider.
Fellow “small time town” Knysna, also has a network that uses Wi-Fi at over 200 hot spots in most business districts and various suburbs. To date the network has been operational for 18 months. There are currently no limits on the access times, but a daily time limit of 45 minutes per user, per day is to be introduced. In selected locations access is free.
The city of Tshwane’s initiative to roll out its wireless broadband network is currently in its “proof of concept deployment phase”. It’s expected that services that will run through the municipality’s network will be free of charge to users.
Free Wi-Fi is available in select areas in Johannesburg, mainly provided by private establishments – this is set to increase by 2014 as broadband penetration is cited to increase to 95%.
Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane in her state of the province address recently announced that more network infrastructure will be laid in a bid to “bridge the digital divide”.
Similarly Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille announced in her state of the province address that it plans to connect 70% of government facilities mainly in underserviced areas like Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain.
The Department of Communications still believes that its plan to reach 100% broadband penetration by 2020 in the country is still possible, it will be interesting to see what approach it uses – connecting one municipality at a time, or a wide-scale roll out.