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Google boosts free WiFi access for Cape Town

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Search engine giant Google has unveiled a host of new products and initiatives in SA, including the company’s free WiFi offering “Google Station”.

Google SA made the announcement at its first Google for South Africa event this morning at The Galleria in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Google Station provides “fast, free and open” WiFi. Through service, users in 125 locations across Langa, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Delft, Elsies River and Philippi in Cape Town will be able to connect to the Internet, giving them free everyday connectivity.

David Shapiro, business and operations officer for Google’s Next Billion Users Initiative, said: “Today, we are bringing Google Station to Cape Town, aiming to bring fast, free and open access to the Internet to more people in South Africa.

“This simple set of tools from Google enables Internet service providers and venues to roll out free WiFi hotspots in places where people spend a lot of time – like trains and stations, markets, universities and malls. Google Station comes to South Africa in partnership with ThinkWifi. We are currently live in over 100 locations in the Cape Flats area, where connectivity barriers like reliability are highest.

Google Station will service people with free Internet where it is really needed. People in Langa, Gugulethu, Blikkiesdorp and Philippi are now able to access fast, free Internet so that they can live more empowered lives with the world’s information at their fingertips.”

Adama Diallo, head of partnerships for Google’s Next Billion Users Initiative, added that in SA, Telkom and Showmax have come on board as the first advertising partners for this initiative. “Google Station is here to connect the unconnected in SA.”

While there are no specific expansion plans concerning the next communities that will get Google Station, Nitin Gajria, Google Africa director, said it is having discussions with some of its partners about where to go next.

Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, public policy and government relations manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at Google, also told the audience about the introduction of Bolo, a speech-based reading app that helps children learn how to read in English.

Bolo was originally launched in India, and has since been rolled out in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. Mgwili-Sibanda said rolling out the app in SA is also aligned to government’s fourth industrial revolution agenda.

“It [Bolo] encourages them to read out loud and then provides individual, customised feedback to help improve their reading capabilities.”

Once the app has been downloaded, it works offline, is secure and ad-free. To date, more than 800 000 children and from more than 28 000 towns and villages have used the app to read more than three million stories, he noted. “I personally believe that Bolo has huge potential to improve the reading abilities of children in South Africa.

“We know that technology alone cannot improve education but we strongly believe it can be a powerful part of that solution.”

Furthermore, the app has over 30 African-origin books to complement the already-existing 50 English-origin books.

At the same event, Mgwili-Sibanda spoke about updates to Google Go.

The search engine describes Google Go as a product that makes it easier to discover the best of the Internet, even on low-RAM smartphones or unstable network connections. “As of today, the Discover feed is now integrated within Google Go to help users stay in the know with their interests, like the latest content on their favourite football team, people of interest, music and news stories.”

In addition, users can access the Google Assistant directly from Google Go. “Using only their voice, users can ask Google to call mum, play the latest Kwesta video, or find the best route to their favourite kota place.”

Google is also bringing Cameos to South Africa. Cameos, a selfie-style video app, allows celebrities and public figures to answer questions about themselves directly within Google search.

“More and more people are searching using their voice, and often they come to Google Assistant for everyday actions like setting timers or learning how to make the best roast chicken.

“South Africans have been using the assistant to get things done since it was launched in South Africa. Starting today, users can ask the Google Assistant to order an Uber or read them South African specific news from their favourite local news outlets.”

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