Google’s free Wi-Fi tested – Here are the real speeds

Google has launched free Wi-Fi hotspots for the residents of several communities in the Cape Flats through its Google Station programme.

The hotspots were launched in partnership with Think WiFi. Google told MyBroadband in an interview that each hotspot has 100Mbps of either fibre or microwave backhaul, depending on what is available.

Other than a renewable session limit of 30 minutes, Google said there are no other restrictions on usage at its Station hotspot.

Each site can cover 40–60 meters, though some are configured in a mesh to provide bigger hotspots around certain areas. At last count, there were around 28,000 people per day using Google Station in the Western Cape.

Townships covered include Langa, Ruyterwacht, Elsies Rivier, Guguletu, Khayelitsha, Delft, and Philippi.

We were recently in Cape Town as part of our quarterly mobile network quality testing, and we decided to stop in Langa for a few minutes to test Google Station.

Our tests were conducted outside Lelalpa Restaurant in Langa, using a laptop with a built-in dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi radio.

The screenshots below show the process of connecting to the hotspot, followed by our test results.

Connecting to Google Station

The Google Station captive portal displays a loading screen, then presents a “Connect” button.

Watch an ad

Before you are connected to the Internet, you are played a video advertisement. Telkom and Showmax are the two first advertising partners for Station in South Africa, Google said.

Get more time by watching more ads

Each session on Google Station is 30 minutes long. To extend the session or reconnect, you can elect to watch another video ad.

Google Station Wi-Fi settings

The laptop we performed our tests with connected to the Google Station hotspot in 802.11n mode. According to the operating system, a maximum speed of over 100Mbps was possible.

Google Wi-Fi

Test results

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

Trying to download a large file, like an installation image for Ubuntu Linux, achieved only a fraction of that speed. At most, our downloads ran at speeds of 200kbps.

Despite problems with throughput on downloads, other services appeared to work well enough. We were able to watch a YouTube video from the Crash Course channel while browsing Wikipedia.

However, Khan Academy and Coursera were unusably slow.

Now read: Soweto will be the first South African township to get fibre

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Google’s free Wi-Fi tested – Here are the real speeds