Western Cape becoming a WiFi hotspot

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 10 Sept 2019

The Western Cape is slowly charting its way to becoming a hotspot for WiFi in SA, with the provincial government committing to roll out 321 public WiFi zones in the province over the next financial year.

The move comes as South African government officials have been more vocal about free universal Internet access, noting it should be prioritised like public utilities such as water and electricity. Last week, finance minister Tito Mboweni indicated Africa needs to make an aggressive case to reach universal broadband adoption.

Mboweni, speaking on behalf of president Cyril Ramaphosa at the World Economic Forum on Africa, noted economic growth, job creation and entrepreneurial activity were linked to broadband access.

In 2016, the Western Cape introduced priority projects called "game-changers", which include the broadband game-changer.

Through the connectivity programme, the provincial government looks to ensure every resident has access to affordable high-speed broadband infrastructure and services, has the necessary skills to use it, and is actively doing so in their day-to-day lives.

In a reply to a Parliamentary question in the Provincial Legislature, premier Alan Winde revealed that 103 hotpots had already been installed at schools across the province over the 2017/18 financial year.

Ricardo MacKenzie, Democratic Alliance spokesperson on premier and constitutional matters, points out the deployment will prioritise disadvantaged areas such as Gugulethu, Nyanga, Bishop Lavis and Philippi.

MacKenzie comments: “I am excited on behalf of the 244 schools across the City of Cape Town Metro and 77 schools in the Overberg, West Coast, Cape Winelands, as well as Eden and Central Karoo areas who will soon have access to the Internet at free public WiFi zones, which help decrease the digital divide in our province.

“Feedback from schools that currently have free public WiFi hotpots indicates that both teachers and learners benefit to complete projects and tasks, especially outside school hours.”

Mark Walker, IDC associate VP for Sub-Saharan Africa, has applauded the Western Cape’s efforts to provide free public Internet access, describing it as a good initiative, especially in light of the urgent need for affordable access to the Internet in the South African context. 

“WiFi is an important enabler of the fourth industrial revolution by providing the on-ramp to digital services. This access can help stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation, allow participation in the digital economy and enable the flow of information across all spheres of the city.

“Of course, it is critical that this service is consistent and that the funding mechanisms underlying access have been well thought-out to ensure sustainability and scale as consumption increases.”

Leading metros

While the country waits for SA Connect to take shape, cities like Tshwane, Johannesburg and Cape Town are already delivering free broadband Internet access through WiFi hotspots.

SA Connect is government's ambitious project, which aims to deliver widespread broadband access to 90% of the country's population by 2020, and 100% with the next phase of implementation.

Government is also looking to the project to meet the technology goals of the National Development Plan (NDP). As part of the NDP, government has undertaken to connect its offices across the country, starting in the rural areas, to ensure South Africans have access to the most modern communication tools and services.

In terms of phase one, Connect SA aims to connect all schools, health facilities, government offices, Thusong Centres and post offices, in eight rural district municipalities, to broadband services.

While Gauteng dominates public WiFi hotspots, the Western Cape’s latest plans to expand the WiFi network show the province does not want to be left behind.

In Gauteng, the bulk of the WiFi hotspots open to the general public can be found in the City of Tshwane.

In March, Tshwane executive mayor Stevens Mokgalapa revealed that over the next three years, the city will add 1 000 WiFi hotspots, with the first 200 scheduled to come online this financial year.

This, according to Mokgalapa, is part of the city's expansion plans of getting more Tshwane citizens connected to the free WiFi initiative.

Digital hub aspirations

In the Western Cape, cities like Cape Town and Stellenbosch are also increasingly becoming key hubs in the tech entrepreneur community.    

A report from last year determined that the greater Cape Town area, including Stellenbosch, is the most productive technology sector in Africa.

The report found the greater Cape Town area employs significantly more people than respective tech sectors in Lagos and Nairobi. In addition to the vibrancy of the city's tech entrepreneur community, the research said entrepreneurs prefer Cape Town as the ideal destination to kick-start business.

According to the report, there are five reasons for starting a tech company in Cape Town. These are: Cape Town is an inspiring place for entrepreneurs to network, is perceived as a tech hub, is seen as a vibrant local tech business community for start-up support, provides a globally competitive lifestyle that promotes innovation, and has strong universities and major companies that help bring talent to the city.