How Google’s free South African Wi-Fi works

Think WiFi and Google recently announced that they would partner to provide free Wi-Fi to South Africa through the Google Station programme.

While the project will first be implemented in certain parts of the Western Cape with poor connectivity, the end goal is to extend connectivity to the entirety of South Africa.

Google Africa director Nitin Garija said the campaign aims to uplift people in poorly-connected areas.

“By gaining access to information via the Internet, we hope that people in these communities will get a more equal opportunity to learn and develop, and live more empowered lives,” said Garija.

MyBroadband spoke with Think WiFi about the technology behind the Google Station project.

How it works

Think WiFi explained that the solution is network provider-agnostic – it uses multiple providers for its connectivity based on technical and commercial feasibility.

“Our model is to provide the WiFi layer and use various network operators to connect our access points and/or aggregation points,” said Think WiFi.

For example, Think WiFi used DFA infrastructure to deliver a 1Gbps service during AfricaCom, and used both Internet Solutions and Comsol for its November launch event.

“At this point, we are also working with a number of wireless and fibre providers to test technical and commercial feasibility, and once we have completed our due diligence will we announce these partnerships.”

Expansion plans

“Our approach is to build first in venues where there is high traffic footfall, like Transport hubs, Malls, Townships, Public areas, Community Areas,” said Think WiFi.

This will allow the company to offer connectivity to the largest number of people.

Think WiFi said that it has already begun expanding its footprint in Cape Town since its launch – increasing the number of venues from 125 to 136.

It said it will be building the underlying WiFi infrastructure while Google will help it to monetise the service through advertising.

Free Wi-Fi – Tested

MyBroadband recently tested the free Google Station Wi-Fi solution offered by Think WiFi and Google in the Western Cape township of Langa.

The service works as follows:

  • Once a user connects to the network, a webpage is loaded which has a “connect” button.
  • Once the user selects this button, they are shown a video advertisement. Telkom and Showmax were the first two advertising partners for the project.
  • Once the video advertisement has been watched, the user can begin their internet session.
  • Each session is 30 minutes long, but users can extend their session by watching more video advertisements.

Speed tests to MyBroadband’s server at NAPAfrica in Cape Town achieved download speeds of about 1Mbps and upload speeds of around 0.7Mbps.

However, downloading a large file achieved only a fraction of that speed. At most, these downloads ran at speeds of 200kbps.

Some websites worked fine, while others – such as Khan Academy and Coursera – were unusably slow.

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How Google’s free South African Wi-Fi works