Wi-Fi the practical route for Project Isizwe

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“So there’s really only two ways in Africa you’re going to be able to cover people and they’re both wireless. It’s never going to be ADSL or cable and those wireless options are 3G or Wi-Fi – those are the two standards,” Project Isizwe founder, Alan Knott-Craig Jr, told ABN Digital on Thursday.

“If you think of the web as a basic human right, like water and electricity, there’s going to be no better access medium than Wi-Fi mainly because of the capital costs.”

Project Isizwe aims to bring free internet to Africa because it’s a proven way to invest in the intellectual capital of the continent. The project currently helps to bring schoolbooks to children as well as healthcare and connectivity to those who need it.

The City of Tshwane recently announced a joint venture between it and Project Isizwe to roll out free internet access for the local community by November this year.   

“The biggest challenge is finding companies, telcos, governments with excess bandwidth. The trick is to find unutilised bandwidth that’s running under the ground that no one’s using, throw it into a pot and make it available to the communities that we’re covering,” Knott-Craig explained.

“The second trick of course is the cash but it’s not a lot of money in the bigger scheme of things. For a smaller site – 150,000 rand, five years fully funded – that’s pretty good. Then of course, political support, once you’ve got the executive mayor or the premier or even the president on board for something, you can move quickly.”

He believes that there is no reason why, by 2019, every educational institution in a low income community in South Africa should not be covered with free Wi-Fi.

By the end of 2014, however, Knott-Craig hopes to have about 150 Wi-Fi setups.

“The end of this year, we’ll have six at a minimum so five will be in Pretoria, one will be in Stellenbosch. It will either get a lot of momentum and really take over the world or we’ll just get to a point where people run with the ball and off you go.”

Knott-Craig parted ways with mobile instant messaging service Mxit in 2012 and credits the Stellenbosch Free Wi-Fi project as the venture that peaked his interests.

“I was unexpectedly unemployed, also the success of the Stellenbosch Free Wi-Fi project – it was amazing. It was very surprising to see how popular it was with everybody including the community,” he said.

“I think just a personal realisation that you can build a telco without spending billions and billions of dollars nowadays and you can do it using Wi-Fi equipment, because the capex cost comes down, means 2013 is the year.”