WCape on course to connect 6.6m residents

Read time 3min 30sec
Left to right: Liquid Telecom SA CEO Reshaad Sha, premier Helen Zille and Western Cape Government director-general advocate Brent Gerber.
Left to right: Liquid Telecom SA CEO Reshaad Sha, premier Helen Zille and Western Cape Government director-general advocate Brent Gerber.

The Western Cape Government (WCG) has joined forces with Liquid Telecom SA to increase free public WiFi hotspots in that province from 178 to 1 600.

The pan-African communications solutions provider will also upgrade the Western Cape's existing public WiFi services network.

The partnership, according to WCG, marks a significant step in its efforts to provide free public Internet access to its 6.6 million residents.

This project forms part of a R3 billion plan to expand broadband connectivity in libraries, schools, clinics and offices, and helps to position the region as a leading global digital hub, states the provincial government.

Premier Helen Zille says: "Broadband is a key enabler for our e-learning game-changer, which aims to enhance teaching and learning using digital technology, focusing in particular on our poorer schools. It also focuses on preparing our learners for the 21st century world of work and life-long learning.

"The WCED [Western Cape Education Department] has invested R253 million towards e-learning in the 2018/2019 financial year. During this term, we have refreshed 700 computer labs, delivered over 32 000 devices, created an online portal with 11 000 resources, trained teachers to a point where 70% are improving at e-teaching, and we will invest R1.2 billion into e-learning over the next five years."

Reshaad Sha, CEO Liquid Telecom SA, says the partnership is aligned with his company's vision to "build Africa's digital future" by providing individuals and communities with high-speed Internet across cities, towns and villages.

"Our partnership with the Western Cape government is central to this vision; giving every South African the right to be connected with free, reliable and fast Internet."

Changing the game

In 2016, Zille's administration introduced the Western Cape's priority projects called "game-changers", which include the broadband game-changer.

Through this connectivity programme, WCG seeks to ensure every resident in every town and village has access to affordable high-speed broadband infrastructure and services, has the necessary skills to use it, and is actively doing so in their day-to-day lives.

Since the introduction of the broadband project, the provincial government has ramped up WiFi access in every ward in the province. It says it has reached its target of full broadband coverage with a total of 1 875 sites, including over 1 200 schools, over 200 libraries and approximately 400 other public facilities.

"Most people and communities in rural, remote areas rely heavily on mobile phones to stay in touch and conduct business. Since mobile broadband costs are still very high to many citizens, public access WiFi networks present an opportunity for citizens to connect, not only to each other but also to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities."

Connected citizens

According to WCG, the new expanded public WiFi network will be available across all municipalities and provide 3GB of data per device per month.

Government Web sites will also remain permanently free for users to access and additional data WiFi vouchers will be available at selected retailers.

"Each of the public WiFi hotspots will allow users with WiFi-enabled devices, including mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers, to connect to hotspots without any logins or passwords. The hotspots will be installed over the next three years, and the project will run for five years in total," says WCG.

"At present, the service offers 178 active hotspots at government buildings across 12 municipalities in the province. It provides 250MB of free data per device per month, and just over 910 000 devices have connected to the network since it was launched in March 2016."

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