Tshwane promises more free WiFi hubs

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Tshwane is looking to double the capacity of its WiFi zones over the next three years.
Tshwane is looking to double the capacity of its WiFi zones over the next three years.

Over the next three years, the City of Tshwane plans to add 1 000 WiFi hotspots, with the first 200 scheduled to come online this financial year.

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

In 2013, under the leadership of former mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa, the city partnered with Project Isizwe to introduce the free WiFi service, dubbed Tshwi-Fi, and create Internet hotspots across the city.

According to Mokgalapa, out of the 1 000 planned new Tshwane WiFi sites, 35 were already installed in December 2018, in five of the city's regions.

"The improved Tshwane WiFi service will include SMME economic development in the form of more than 20 local-based suppliers specialising in cabling and field network services for support, maintenance and implementing of the WiFi network."

Doubting Thomas

Some users remain sceptical about plans to introduce more free WiFi hubs.

Commenting on the mayor's announcement, Twitter user @beholdIT said: "We applaud the effort, [but] we still have #TshwaneWiFi spots that have been down for over a year now."

The area in particular is Ekangala Township, according to the user. "As entrepreneurs, not having #TshwaneWifi widely available really affects our bottom line negatively. I really don't know when will geopolitics on Ekangala/Ekandustria end [and] usher progress."

This comes as the city had to put out fires last year, amid concerns the service had been cancelled after users experienced blotchy connections.

@BalosangSanki tweeted in November 2018: "#TshwaneWiFi has not been working at the Elandspoort Park for almost a year now and there's no explanation. Our kids are deprived the benefits thereof..."

The city has attributed network availability issues to power outages, theft and vandalism of its electronic equipment, indicating it will continue to provide the much-needed service.

Isizwe bows out

As of 30 June 2018, Project Isizwe, which helped Tshwane pioneer its free WiFi network, ceased to be the contracting partner for the project.

The non-profit organisation previously claimed it saved the residents of Tshwane over R1 billion through its free WiFi project.

Isizwe CEO Dudu Mkhwanazi previously noted the decision to move away from City of Tshwane business is in line with plans to work with other corporates on projects and partnerships that go beyond municipalities and metros.

When Tshwi-Fi was launched, the city described the Internet service as a useful tool for research, starting a business, accessing specialised educational content online and allowing job-seekers to browse for work opportunities, adding it formed part of the strategy to build a robust ICT infrastructure.

Five free public-access WiFi hotspots were rolled out when the project was launched six years ago. At last count, there were more than 1 000 free Internet zones throughout the city.

During its partnership with Isizwe, the city doubled the daily data quota from 250MB to 500MB with a network speed of 15Mbps. As of December 2018, citizens receive a daily data quota of 1GB.

The city contracted the services of Ulwembu Business Services after Isizwe's exit.

Norman Mohale, acting spokesperson of the office of the executive mayor, reveals a little over R70 million was budgeted for WiFi for the 2018/2019 financial year. R73 million for 2019/2020 and R76 million for the 2020/2021 financial year.

According to Mohale, Ulwembu utilises 22 SMME's based in the seven regions of the city to ensure that township economy and empowerment is achieved.

"The free WiFi project is an initiative by the city to provide Internet access to the less privileged communities within Tshwane. The goal of the project was to facilitate informal learning, providing access to information, encourage entrepreneurship, enhance social cohesion and facilitate e-governmental services in the City of Tshwane by providing easy access to WiFi services to those that may have been denied access previously because of costs associated with connection. This was done by providing the access to the Internet and by encouraging the use of constructive online content and tools."

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