Tshwane’s big plans for its free Wi-Fi network

City of Tshwane plans to convert the transmission network for its free Wi-Fi service to fibre. However, theft and vandalism pose a significant threat to the service.

“There are 54 high sites established across the seven regions of the metro,” said Tshwane shared services head Musa Khumalo.

These high sites are situated on top of water reservoirs to enable better Internet connectivity to 1,576 Free Internet Zones (FIZs).

Khumalo explained the links backhauling Internet traffic from FIZs run on the same frequencies as regular Wi-Fi networks and not licensed spectrum.

Therefore, the links compete with other operators using the same frequencies and are impacted by noise and inclement weather.

For this reason, Tshwane would like to convert many of these sites to fibre connectivity.

“It can improve on the quality of connection as well as the speed and reliability of the network,” Khumalo said.

However, a major challenge for the network is theft and vandalism.

“To date, the city has experienced more than half of its network being vandalised,” said Khumalo.

“The criminals steal solar panels, batteries, power cables, as well as other equipment. The city has provided security guards in some high sites to minimise vandalism on its infrastructure.”

The Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality has noticed the need for free Internet in communities.

Khumalo noted that during South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown, public network usage decreased in some cases because some FIZs are located inside schools, preventing most of the community from using them.

However, when the lockdown was eased, usage increased considerably as people could access school premises, bus stops, parks, and car washes.

“Public Wi-Fi forms part of a critical role in the community’s daily livelihood,” said Khumalo.

“In the last thirteen years of public Wi-Fi’s existence, it has been established that this service benefits both the working class as well the low-income class because the service is installed across the length and breadth of the Metro,” he added.

A good example of this is schools and tertiary education, as students can do their research and assignments, and establish communication channels using the Internet.

Khumalo reiterated that “the only drawback has been vandalism of the network, to the extent that the overall availability has been reduced drastically.”

“The City has embarked on the process of repairing some key high sites that carry lots of traffic in terms of network connectivity,” he added.

Tshwane also commented on the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies’ engagement with the National Treasury for the Broadband Fund.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet approved the rollout of the second phase of the SA connect project towards the end of January 2022. It will be financed with the Broadband Fund.

Communication minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said Internet access had become a necessity in today’s digital world, and rolling out free Wi-Fi borrows on the tenets of universal access to basic and essential services such as water and electricity.

Khumalo said there is a definite need for the government to implement Wi-Fi in rural communities, as many poor communities have little to no access to the Internet.

But, alongside theft and vandalism, another major hurdle to implementing FIZs in these poor communities is the lack of infrastructure, and therefore, the capital investment becomes quite steep.

“The City plans to ensure that Regions 5 and 7 are fully connected in terms of infrastructure installations, then the installation of the FIZs can be effected,” Khumalo said.

“Funding for Wi-Fi from the National Treasury will alleviate the current financial position of the City and ensure the current budget can be utilised in other basic community needs, like provision of water and electricity,” Khumalo added.

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Tshwane’s big plans for its free Wi-Fi network