Saldanha Bay gets free public WiFi hotspots

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Cell C in partnership with Facebook and the Saldanha Bay Municipality (SBM) have deployed express public WiFi hotspots and fibre-to-the-home across the Western Cape municipality.

The initiative, according to Cell C, is part of an ongoing strategy to roll out free WiFi hotspots to marginalised communities, targeted at students and anyone in need of free, reliable connectivity.

Underpinned by the municipality’s fibre infrastructure, the project will enable residents to connect to the Internet via Facebook's Express WiFi platform, as part of a broader plan to roll out WiFi hotspots across the country.

In 2017, Facebook introduced its Express WiFi programme locally to deliver fast and free Internet access to underserved areas in SA. The social media network has various other partnerships with service providers and operators to expand the project throughout SA.

The SBM is the second municipality to make its infrastructure available to the programme after the City of Cape Town’s similar project.

“We are currently rolling out to all the technical and vocational education and training colleges in the metro, and looking for new opportunities that are aligned to the municipal model,” says Schalk Visser, Cell C’s CTO.

“We are aiming at an additional 300 access points in the metro by the end of December 2020. Alongside that, we’re aiming at having another 100 access points or more with the SBM in the first quarter next year as we expand to other towns in the same Municipality,” he says.

The open access fibre network will enable connectivity for all residents of the Saldanha Bay Municipality, and it forms part of a new beginning for the region’s basic utility service delivery and infrastructure development.

The municipality says its high capacity fibre infrastructure functions will serve as an enabler for convergence and the birth of a true smart city.

By reclaiming the municipality’s legal and regulatory rights to own fibre infrastructure as a utility, the asset can be leveraged as a new, additional and sustainable evergreen municipal revenue stream, it says.

“One of the strategic objectives of SBM is to be an innovative municipality on the cutting edge in respect of the use of technology and best practice,” says Alderman Marius Koen, executive mayor of Saldanha Bay.

“With local government being the key to the tangible, on‐the‐ground service delivery strategy of the government, one of our nation’s most pressing challenges has become the need to strengthen local government and thereby further empower its citizens,” he says.

Other areas outside the Western Cape which have received connectivity through the programme include Diepsloot and Katlehong in Gauteng.

Globally, Facebook’s WiFi initiative was launched in 2016, and has seen the introduction of affordable or free WiFi in many parts of the world.

In a previous interview, Kojo Boakye, Facebook’s head of public policy in Africa, told ITWeb that connectivity is at the heart of Facebook’s mission to give Africans the power to build communities and bring the world closer together.

“We want to continue working with equipment manufacturers, mobile network operators and service providers, to scale Express WiFi in areas that are either entirely unconnected or under-connected in SA, to bring more people online at affordable rates.

“While mobile broadband data has become more affordable on average, it’s still expensive for many people in low-income countries. Through Express WiFi, companies can build, grow and monetise their WiFi businesses in a sustainable and scalable way.”

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