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Facebook Express WiFi looks to scale-up in SA

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Facebook says it is looking to work with mobile network operators and Internet service providers in SA and Africa to scale-up its Express WiFi programme to under-connected areas.

Launched locally in 2017, Facebook’s Express WiFi programme aims to deliver Internet access to underserved areas in SA, by partnering with service providers and operators to expand the provision of fast, affordable and reliable access to the Internet over WiFi.

According to Facebook, its mesh WiFi technology works with different wireless technologies, reducing the need for operators to spend time manually configuring their networks.

Partners are able to integrate Facebook’s mesh access technology into their WiFi solutions and offer affordable WiFi bundles to subscribers.

Globally, the initiative was launched in 2016, and has seen the introduction of affordable or free WiFi in many parts of the world. In SA, Facebook has an existing partnership with Cell C, which has seen itprovide the first free access to the WiFi hotspots at the University of Western Cape. The hotspot is free for students on the campus, and Cell C says it intends to set up further access points across SA.

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

Kojo Boakye, Facebook’s head of public policy in Africa, says 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.”

Express WiFi is designed to complement mobile data offerings by providing a low-cost, high-bandwidth alternative, notes Boakye.

According to the 2019 EIU Internet Inclusivity Indexcommissioned by Facebook, about 3.8 billion people don’t have fast, affordable and reliable Internet access.

The report also shows that while there is progress on bringing broadband access to more people; the rate of growth in household connectivity has been slow.

Addressing these barriers to global connectivity is a big task that requires many partners working together, according to Boakye.

“Facebook, along with its community of partners, aims to break down these barriers by developing new technologies, business models and programmes that reduce the cost of providing high-quality Internet.”

Last month, Cisco announced it had joined Facebook’s Express WiFi Partner Programme, saying it will build network hardware and software that is compatible with Express WiFi, as part of its effort to bring more people online.

In line with Facebook’s mission, Cisco said it has a goal to positively impact a billion lives globally by 2025 through the use of technology, and its involvement with the Express WiFi Technology Partner Programme will help it achieve this aim.

The networking giant joined the likes of global partners Ruckus Network, Nokia, Telefonica, Cambium Networks and Arista Networks, which already participate in the social media giant’s partner programme.

In Africa, Facebook Express WiFi has partnered with Vodafone (Ghana) BRCK (Kenya) TizetiNetwork Limited and Coolink (Nigeria), and HabariNetworks (Tanzania).

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