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WiFi 6 tech deployed for the first time in SA elections

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 02 Nov 2021

For the first time, WiFi 6 technology was deployed to support the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to run the elections in South Africa.

This is according to Telkom, which notes it deployed the latest generation of W-LAN technology, WiFi 6, in support of the Local Government Elections 2021.

Launched in 2019 and used for the first time in a South African election, the latest version of WiFi technology is one of the technologies deployed for these elections, Telkom notes.

Yesterday, South Africans went to the polls to elect councils for all district, metropolitan and local municipalities in each of the country’s nine provinces.

Counting of the votes was still ongoing at the time of publication. More than 26 million South Africans were registered to vote in the elections, the majority of which were between the ages of 30 and 39 years.

The polling stations officially closed at 9PM on Monday. Yesterday, the IEC announced that over eight million South Africans had cast their votes across the country’s 23 148 voting stations as at 5pm.

The technical support given to the IEC is paramount, as voting data must be captured in high-density metropolitan areas as well as remote rural areas from over 23 000 voting stations.

Vodacom also provided tech support to ensure the smooth running of the elections.

Says Vodacom in a statement to ITWeb: "Vodacom is pleased to offer its technical support to the IEC to ensure that all voting stations across the country had network coverage on election day.

"As part of our ongoing partnership with government, we are always ready and willing to assist in any way possible in order to support various initiatives including a smooth electoral process.”

Telkom supplied the voice and data network backbone for the IEC to allow for the collation and reporting of votes across the country.

Speed is of the essence

Andre Kannemeyer, CTO of Duxbury Networking, explains that past 802.11 wireless enhancements have delivered higher data rates and wider channels but have not addressed efficiency challenges in WiFi networks.

He notes WiFi traffic jams are still inevitable. “Despite the higher data rates and the 40/80/160MHz channels used by 802.11n/ac radios, multiple factors create traffic congestion in WiFi networks. WiFi 6 focuses on high efficiency with technology to address the inefficient use of the WiFi medium.”

According to Prashil Gareeb, managing executive for converged communications at Telkom-owned BCX, Telkom continuously works to deploy the most advanced technologies for the IEC.

He says during the election period, the Telkom network supports multiple electoral officials, the security cluster, media and public officials. All are co-located at the nine main results centres across the country, Gareeb adds.

This latest technology is designed for high-density environments. “Unlike its predecessors, it is easier to deploy with one or two access points, requiring less cabling while allowing for stronger and better networks.

“The WiFi 6 allows for more efficient data encoding, resulting in higher throughput, capacity and speeds. The speeds are significantly improved.”

Gareeb notes that speeds of up to 9.6-gigabits per second have been recorded − more than double the current levels of 3.5Gbps. “This allows real-time downloads, a key deliverable for results capturing and broadcasting.

“We are able to deploy the WiFi 6 in these elections because, despite interruptions of COVID-19, equipment manufacturers adapted quickly, and it offers additional benefits, such as increased battery life of some devices − an important feature for the long hours we work during the election period.”

Connecting voters

Telkom notes that the technology is supported by managed services in line with a fit-for-purpose approach to deployment of technology. “That is why we are seeing double-digit growth in adoption of this technology and our services in the enterprise market for WiFi 6,” says Gareeb.

The technology performs extremely well at peak network load outside of elections; its adoption by the banking and retail sectors is a game-changer for the expected usage in South Africa, says Gareeb.

“The people of South Africa are dependent on connectivity to make their votes count. It all boils down to the technologies we deploy to service the electorate and the IEC, regardless of where voting is taking place.”

Meanwhile, there were reportedly “challenges” with the new voter management devices the commission piloted in these elections.

According to Mail & Guardian, this resulted in about 67 000 voters, whose details had not been uploaded into the electoral system, being turned away.

It adds that IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini defended the devices, saying the new technology was not the problem, but rather the shorter-than-usual time the commission had to organise the elections.

In September, the IEC acquired 40 000 new voter management devices that were to be used for the first time over the registration weekend.

This came after the electoral body told Parliament in April that it was planning to replace the ageing existing registration devices, known as Zip-Zip scanners.