CSIR extends rural broadband

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More than 200 facilities have been given broadband connectivity by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's (CSIR's) Wireless Mesh Network (WMN) project.

Of these facilities, 175 are schools and the rest are school circuit manager offices and a community radio station, says the CSIR in its annual report.

The WMN project was first piloted in September last year, after it was unveiled by science and technology minister Naledi Pandor, in Mpumalanga.

It aims to see rural districts getting broadband connectivity through wireless networks. The target is to have an end-to-end Internet uptime of 95%.

Universal broadband

This project forms part of the CSIR's Broadband for All (BB4All) initiative that aims to support and contribute to national broadband infrastructure.

WMN uses unconventional methods to communicate information. Instead of the traditional point-to-multipoint communication, it is based on peer-to-peer communication between network nodes.

The council says the project will be rolled out to the Sekhukhune district, in Limpopo, and the John Taolo Gaetsewe district, in the Northern Cape.

At its completion, the project aims to have connected about 450 facilities like schools and clinics, and developed at least 45 village operator businesses. Village operators are sourced from within communities to manage the networks.

Free connectivity

Pandor explained at the launch that, traditionally, telecommunications infrastructure could be set up by only a select few national or large regional telecommunications operators, mainly because they were the only ones that had the financial muscle, access to specialised expertise, and licences.

“However, as a result of technological advances in the field of wireless technology - WiFi - it is now possible for anyone with a bit of technical know-how to create direct wireless connections between devices such as computers.”

The long-term aim of the project is the establishment of a number of interdependent building blocks to create an alternative telecommunications system.

Facilities joining the network receive free broadband and only pay the service fee charged by the local village operator.

“The broader community, therefore, benefits from improved access at these facilities, and in later phases of the project, will be able to connect individually to the mesh networks,” said Pandor.

She added that the project will stimulate sustainable rural economic development through local enterprise development in broadband infrastructure and services, using community wireless mesh networks and free and open source software.

“The typical set-up and three-year operational cost for connecting a village with 20 schools and one village operator with broadband connectivity is in the order of R350 000 to R750 000, with an expected monthly fee of between R500 and R1 000 per month per school after the three-year project period,” said the DST.

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