From wireless cowboys to serious broadband providers

Wi-Fi broadband providers have grown from a group of ‘outlawed’ wireless network service providers to respectable telecoms companies which offer reliable broadband services to businesses and residential customers. This is according to Christopher Geerdts, chairman of the Wireless Access Providers’ Association (WAPA).

Geerdts told MyBroadband that WAPA, which was established in 2006, now has 125 members which use wireless networks to provide broadband and other telecoms services across South Africa.

Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) are often forgotten when looking at the South African broadband landscape, but this is changing said WAPA deputy chair Mohammad Patel.

According to Patel more than 40,000 South African consumers and businesses are served by WISPs, making WAPA members a significant player in the local broadband market.

What makes WAPA members special, explains Patel, is that they roll out networks fast and cheaply using open standard wireless technologies (typically Wi-Fi) in the ISM spectrum bands.

These affordable Wi-Fi networks are particularly suitable for providing telecoms and broadband services to rural areas, said Patel.

The past and future

Mohammad Patel
Mohammad Patel

In years gone by, South African laws prohibited service providers from building their own networks (hence self provide), but many wireless providers rolled out networks despite these restrictions.

A court ruling in 2008 changed these restrictions, which means that any VANS license holder (now ECNS license holders) effectively has the right to self provide.

The maverick attitude from wireless telecoms providers to deploy networks despite the restrictions meant that they were often seen as outlaws of the South African telecoms landscape. This is however changing.

WAPA is working closely with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to ensure compliance in the wireless environment, and is also looking to become an industry recognized body (IRB).

Patel and Geerdts are confident that the added respectability which WAPA brings to WISPS, and advances in wireless technologies, means that their members may well be the next driver of broadband access in South Africa.

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From wireless cowboys to serious broadband providers