Bringing free wi-fi to the people


BusWifi---textTshwane’s bus rapid transit system, A Re Yeng, began operations in December 2014 and with it came a world-first in mobile connectivity – commuters get uninterrupted free wi-fi on board. (Image: Project Isizwe)

In this world of smartphones and other technological gadgets that need data to work, the rollout of free wi-fi is definitely welcomed – perhaps even crucial.

There has been a surge in South Africa towards free wi-fi, driven by the government and the private sector. The city of Tshwane, for example, is one of those metros leading the way with public access. A non-profit organisation called Project Isizwe is another group at the forefront of bringing free wi-fi to the people.

Project Isizwe aims to open up access to the internet across South Africa, by facilitating the rollout of free wi-fi in public spaces in low-income communities. Its core focus is to harness the power of the internet in these communities for education, and use it as a catalyst for change.

According to research by the Wireless Broadband Alliance and Informa, global public wi-fi hotspot numbers will reach 5.8 million this year, compared to 1.3 million in 2011 – a 350% increase.

Project Isizwe is an initiative of former Mxit chief executive Alan Knott-Craig Jr. It all started with the Stellenbosch Free Wi-Fi project, whereby Mxit and the municipality partnered to offer free internet access, specifically in townships. Isizwe is still head-quartered in the Western Cape town.

“There’s so much content in the world, the problem is access,” Knott-Craig said. “There really is no better way to help the country than to provide internet access and if you can give it to rural and poor communities you have really hit the nail on the head. They will be able to look for job opportunities, health care services, get their textbooks online instead of waiting for someone to deliver [them].”


The project is rolled out through partnerships with municipalities, which pay the company to roll out the networks and provide support in low-income communities for a few years after completion. The first rollout was in Tshwane. Since launching five live sites in November 2013, there have been 11 000 unique users accessing the networks, and there are consistently more than 1 100 daily visitors.

An example of how the money flows from municipalities to Isizwe is how much it cost for phase two of the Tshwane rollout: the R53-million includes all equipment, installation, operation and maintenance of over 210 access points – with a capacity of 5 000 users each – for three years.


Tshwane’s bus rapid transit system, A Re Yeng, began operations in December 2014 and with it came a world-first in mobile connectivity – commuters get uninterrupted free wi-fi on board. A Re Yeng buses come equipped with connection to 250MB of free wi-fi per device per day, giving users the ability to look for jobs, access education materials and keep in touch with their friends while on the move around their city.

Free wi-fi is currently only available on the trunk route, however, which runs between Pretoria Central and Hatfield.

And the minibus taxi industry is not being left behind. In partnership with Telkom Mobile, the South African National Taxi Council launched wi-fi enabled taxis, branded Wi-Taxi, in July 2014. The clearly marked taxis have a code that commuters registered on the database can use to connect to the web for free.

A taxi trip can be long and boring and in this age of smartphones the free internet access will make the ride more pleasurable.

Wi-Taxi South Africa chief executive Brian Mdluli said at the launch: “Commuters [in taxis with wi-fi] will get 50MB for free per month. There will be 200MB per taxi per day.

“I can assure you that it won’t cost the consumer extra. If commuters walk into a taxi rank and have access to wi-fi, they will be able to look for jobs and interact with their friends on a social basis. We believe it will contribute to the growth of the country in general, and it’s part of our contribution as the taxi industry to the development of the country.”