“We’re pushing carrier-grade Wi-Fi, and I think in the past Wi-Fi was regarded as the device you have at home, connect it to your DSL modem and it works. Anyone that drives down the N1 and you’re talking on your phone, you can probably much say that carrier grade is not all it’s cracked up to be, because it constantly drops. So we’re looking at using Wi-Fi as a means of enhancing or as a means of giving the carriers ability to offload data on to Wi-Fi,” Michael Fletcher, sales director at Ruckus Wireless sub-Saharan Africa, told CNBC Africa.
Fletcher added that the biggest potential for mobile companies looking to provide Wi-Fi services is cost reduction, as there is no stringent requirement for licences as well as no spectrum requirements. Incorporating Wi-Fi will also feed the growing demand consumers have for data and data access.
“We’ve got two Oscar events happening today [Paralympic Oscar Pistorius’s trial and the film Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars]: people will be tweeting, posting pictures, you’re seeing that happening more and more. You’re finding that the networks just aren’t able to keep up with it,” Fletcher explained.
There is however a number of interesting Wi-Fi options in the pipeline for South Africa, including location-based services, which allow for the collecting of people’s purchasing habits and promote products they are likely to buy.
“With Wi-Fi, there are quite a few deployments in South Africa and in other parts of Africa as well. MWEB’s done quite a few shopping centres, Internet Solutions has done one as well and if you’re inside one of those shopping centres, one of the key differentiators is you’ll get coverage wherever you are,” said Fletcher.
“In the more dense areas like the food courts, you’ll get even better coverage where they’ll put down some more access points. It’s all looking at what the value adds offer down the line, like the location-based services, proximity marketing where you can have targeted advertising to people in a specific location.”
The high cost of Wi-Fi however blocks its quick growth in South Africa as opposed to in other countries, and it will be a long time until the country is able to provide free Wi-Fi in areas such as shopping malls and businesses.
“We’ve got a few free Wi-Fi deployments. The City of Tshwane’s got some, a couple in Stellenbosch. We’re starting to see a few more serious bids and what I’m seeing happening a lot more in Africa is if you go to an airport there’s free Wi-Fi, which was something that wasn’t available before,” said Fletcher.