Tshwane Free Wi-Fi – The true story

The City of Tshwane’s free Wi-Fi project has come under scrutiny after the DA took over the municipality and looked into its finances – however, the service will not be cancelled.

This is according to Cilliers Brink, ‎a Member of the Mayoral Committee in Tshwane, who provided MyBroadband with an inside look at the current state of the Wi-Fi project and the plans for the network.

The first phase of the Tshwane Free Wi-Fi project was launched in 2013, and included hotspots at various academic institutions, the Mamelodi Community Centre, and Church Square.

The project, initiated by the former ANC municipal government and funded by the municipality, grew to its current coverage of 1,050 hotspots over the last four years.

Although it appeared to be a commendable project, serious questions emerged regarding its finances in recent months.

The Auditor General recently declared R180 million spent on the Wi-Fi network as “unlawful and irregular”.

The project was reportedly paid for by grant funding – under a section of the Municipal Finance Management Act – meant for non-profit organisations and charities.

The high cost of the project has also raised eyebrows. At R320 million for the project to date, it suggests that Tshwane paid almost R305,000 per Wi-Fi site.

The controversy around the network does not mean the City of Tshwane will stop the project, though.

Brink told MyBroadband that while the Wi-Fi offering was “born in sin” under the ANC, it is “simply too far down the road to simply cancel the service and start anew”.

Following the Auditor General’s finding, the new DA municipal government immediately ceased all payments to Project Isizwe – the company behind the network.

At the same time, the city started to explore sustainable methods of funding.

Brink said the R320 million spent on the Wi-Fi project included R75 million in value added services, which include:

  • Tshwane TV – R22 million
  • Drive-In – R19 million
  • VOIP on Tshwi-Fi network – R25 million
  • Chat with City – R9 million

The city said this month it made an important breakthrough in putting its free Wi-Fi network on a lawful and sustainable footing.

It said it is crucial that its new Wi-Fi budget be spent wisely, and that the ANC municipality’s previous mistakes will be avoided.

Network performance

The City of Tshwane’s original service level agreement with Project Isizwe included:

  • Providing the service on a “best effort” basis to achieve maximum line-equivalent speeds of 1Mbps and 256kbps for downstream and upstream respectively. The service aims to achieve an average download speed of 125kbps and an upload speed of 32kbps per device.
  • The contract was for the installation of Free Internet Zones with a specified management and maintenance period. Each phase was contracted and expired at different dates.
  • To provide a maximum bandwidth usage of 250MB per day to each device. That capacity was increased to 500MB per user per day.
  • To provide the service from the commission date and for a period of 3 years.
  • Phases 4 to 8 provided additional services to the Tshwane citizens, including TV, VoIP, Chat, and so on.

Brink said there are several factors that affect wireless networking performance in the city.

This includes physical obstructions, network range and distance between devices, wireless network interference, signal sharing, network usage and load, local environment characteristics, spectrum channel limitations, and signal reflection.

“Less-known factors include transmitter power limitations, polarisation of signal, and speed loss due to wireless overheads,” said Brink.

Project Isizwe tests the Tshwane Free Wi-Fi network regularly and conducts over 100 tests a month.

MyBroadband was provided with the latest test results, which show an average download speed of 8.8Mbps and a peak speed of 49.6Mbps.

The average upload speed, according to the Project Isizwe tests, is 8.7Mbps, and the average latency is 26ms.

Brink said the continual uptake of users and their increasing demand for data means the network needs to operate at increasing capacity.

“Just recently, we increased the Internet capacity and within a day that increase was fully utilised,” said Brink.

Real world tests

To assess Project Isizwe’s speed test claims, MyBroadband performed real-world tests in multiple locations.

For the tests, MyBroadband used the Tshwane Free Wi-Fi app’s zone map, and performed tests as close as possible to the location of the listed hotspots.

Download speeds ranged between 0.05Mbps and 0.36Mbps, while upload speeds ranged between 0.02Mbps and 0.49Mbps.

Peak speeds were achieved when the tests were performed a few metres away from the hotspot, with direct line-of-sight.

The testing further showed that users have to be relatively close to the hotspot to make use of the service.

Numerous tests failed, despite being conducted within 100m of the hotspot.

MyBroadband asked Brink about the relatively poor performance of the network in the tests, and he said “the city remains concerned over the allegations of slow download speeds”.

He said they are willing to accompany MyBroadband to the test sites mentioned below, and run the tests again to check for outside or environmental interference.

Tshwane Free Wi-Fi Network Tests
Location Download Speed Upload Speed Latency
Centurion Licensing Services Test Failed (could not connect to hotspot)
Dooringkloof (c/o Protea and Lupic Streets) 0.10Mbps 0.16Mbps 3,000ms
Dooringkloof Tennis Club 0.31Mbps 0.04Mbps 179ms
Laerskool Doringkloof 0.15Mbps 0.02Mbps 535ms
Centurion Rugby Club 0.16Mbps 0.03Mbps 187ms
Centurion Jukskei Club 0.08Mbps 0.02Mbps 68ms
Lyttelton Clinic Test Failed (could not connect to hotspot)
Centurion CC Test Failed (could not connect to hotspot)
Hoerskool Centurion Test Failed (could not connect to hotspot)
Lyttelton Primary School 0.18Mbps 0.02Mbps Timed Out
Metro Police Centurion 0.28Mbps 0.21Mbps 678ms
Irene Library 0.36Mbps 0.49Mbps 3,001ms

No comment from Project Isizwe

Project Isizwe was contacted for comment about the performance of its network, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.

Now read: Why the Tshwane free Wi-Fi project is so expensive – R320 million for 1,050 sites

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Tshwane Free Wi-Fi – The true story