Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have any questions about Project Isizwe? Here are some answers to common questions. These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) are designed to provide a better understanding of Project Isizwe's initiatives and programmes. Simply click on the question to expand and view the answer. If you still can’t find the answer to your question, please do not hesitate to contact us directly by clicking here.

What is Project Isizwe?

Project Isizwe is a non-profit organisation which aims to bring the internet to people across South Africa, by facilitating the roll-out of Free WiFi in public spaces in low income communities. The core focus of Project Isizwe is to harness the power of the internet in low-income communities for the purpose of education and use it as a catalyst for change. Isizwe helps governments plan, roll-out and maintain Free WiFi networks, helping to trigger a ‘multiplier effect’ on the economy and create employment. Our non-profit structure allows us to pool bandwidth, source local installers, and deal with governments without the traditional excessive mark-ups.

Why Isizwe?

‘Isizwe’ is Xhosa for nation, tribe, and people. By connecting the people of South Africa to one another and to the internet, we empower the continent to work together towards a brighter future.

Why are we doing this?
In today’s connected world, access to the internet should be considered an essential service, like water or electricity. And just like water and electricity, it should be available to everyone, regardless of circumstance. South Africa is lagging the world in internet accessibility. Not only does this failure damage the international reputation of our continent, it severely hampers economic development, both at an individual and a corporate level. We want to give all South Africans the power to access information, education and jobs online and help to bridge the digital divide between South Africa and the developed world, in turn improving the status of the continent.
What is the product?

Free WiFi access with no passwords or logins. Connect, click and surf in open public spaces around schools, universities, libraries, sports clubs, community centres and parks.

Why use WiFi?

Due to the proliferation of WiFi-compatible devices throughout South Africa, WiFi has become the most commonplace form of connectivity after 3G. Coupled with the prohibitive costs of 3G in rural areas, WiFi is the most appropriate access medium for rolling out networks offering best-effort connectivity.

Where do we do this?

The focus is to cover open public spaces around educational institutions within low income communities, as well as congested metropolitan areas. Project Isizwe has a national footprint, with a presence in 8 of the South African provinces.

What is a FIZ?

A Free WiFi network node at a public access point is known as a Free Internet Zone (FIZ), where any user can get free and immediate access without passwords or logins. The user can access the network within ±100m from the physical Access Point, which and can handle ±400 concurrent users.

What is the user service

The user service is governed by a fair usage policy for internet access, limited to a data cap of 500MB per device per day at an average speed of 15Mbps download and 1Mbps upload. On-net content, which does not require breakout to the internet, is provided with unlimited access and free usage to all users. The service is secured through the click-to-connect mechanism and additional network security prevents abuse or access to prohibited websites.

How do we do this?

Project Isizwe has partnered with telecommunications company HeroTel to provide the hardware, installation, support and maintenance for all FIZ sites at costs that would not be possible in a regular commercial agreement.

How does Isizwe manage potential conflicts of interest with HeroTel?

Isizwe’s policy is simple: we never make a profit when selling services to the public sector. Of course there are plenty companies that are upset with that policy because it means they can’t compete on price. There are potential conflicts of interest between Project Isizwe and HeroTel, but we manage them via strict internal processes, external audits, and independent boards.

How is a FIZ funded?

Each FIZ sponsorship includes a cash reserve for funding the ongoing maintenance and replacement of WiFi equipment. This is managed by HeroTel through their local Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) partners, thereby ensuring monies and skills are kept within the local community.

What about bandwidth?

A percentage of the cost of each FIZ is allocated towards paid-for bandwidth, while additional bandwidth is provided by Neotel.

How do communities benefit?

The benefits to the local communities are numerous, including access to information, informal learning to support existing education systems and employment. Aside from the widely publicised socio-economic benefits of access to the internet, the on-net content provided at unlimited usage assists communities in furthering informal learning and skills development, empowering them to take charge of their own future. In addition, Project Isizwe partners with champions from the local communities. These people take responsibility for the project, building relationships with government and supporting the technical components to ensure that there is no administrative or technical burden for the local government and municipal officials.

What are the obstacles to Free WiFi?

Procurement process: an RFP process must be followed and this will take several months

The standard RFP process can be legitimately circumvented by S67 of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) whereby the municipality may issue a grant without tender on the following conditions:

–   Accounting Officer of City must be happy that the provider can deliver the service and takes full responsibility for this.

–   Accounting Officer must ensure that compliance reporting obligations per MFMA are provided.

–   Service being offered must be unique and cost effective – In 2013 Isizwe was unique for Tshwane as no municipality offered public space free WiFi; Isizwe is even more unique today because.

–   There are still no municipalities offering unconditional free WiFi in poor communities, and no organisation other than Isizwe provides the same low cost of deployment nor a 2 year track.

–   Record that includes building 800+ sites with over 1,600 access points (APs) and connecting more that 2 million users.

–   There must be direct benefits to the community through the service – The positive socio-economic impact of free internet in poor communities is well-documented.

This is not to say that a prospective municipality should not conduct an RFP process in the future, but it can get the ball rolling immediately using S67, thereby getting more people online faster and providing a proven technical specification for a future, slower tender process that is clear of irregularities. Every month that goes by due to unnecessary delays is a tragedy for a youngster who can’t download his textbook, do his homework online or email his CV.

The WiFi network must have a commercial model – it can be free to users, but it must also be sustainable

There are two different models for rolling out WiFi – each with their unique strengths and challenges:

Tshwane uses a Free WiFi model, where low-income communities are given free access to WiFi in order to address inequality.

Cape Town uses commercial model targeted primarily at businesses to expand the City’s commercial potential.

Project Isizwe believes firmly in the Free WiFi model, and the reason is simple – we can both address inequality and expand commercial potential at the same time.

Here’s how we do it

The World Bank estimates that for every 10% growth in broadband penetration there is a 1,28% multiplier for GDP. In other words, assuming national tax rates of 50%, as long as the deployment of public Free WiFi is no more than 0,64% of a municipality’s annual budget, the net rates & taxes from increased economic growth will fund all infrastructure.

The annual cost of bringing free WiFi to all citizens of Tshwane is R92 mil, or 0.28% of the city’s annual budget. Using the World Bank’s calculations that means the City makes a 10% after-tax profit on Free WiFi.

It also means that the City can incentivise ratepayers to settle their accounts, using a system where users can only access Free WiFi if their rates and taxes are paid.

Tshwane is owed unpaid electricity bills of R5 billion. If using Free WiFi as an incentive increases collections by 3,6%, the City will be able to fund its entire annual budget for universal Free WiFi.

Are there are lower cost providers than Project Isizwe?

Isizwe is a non-profit, therefore it has no profit margin by definition. Isizwe’s competence is borne out by the Tshwane Free WiFi deployment which started in Nov 2013 and has grown into the biggest municipal free WiFi network in Africa.

Since then, Isizwe has assisted the Department of Higher Education for Free WiFi at TVET campuses. The Department of Postal and Telecommunications Services is engaging Isizwe to become the preferred service provider for SA Connect.

The cost of phase 1 of a typical municipal Free WiFi deployment in urban areas will be R3mil. That is capacity for 150,000 devices for 12 months, fully funded. Each device has a daily cap of 250MB. The cost per user according to this spec is R1.67pm for 7,5GB per month. R1.67pm for 7,5GB per month. The equivalent on Vodacom 3G on out-of-bundle prepaid rates is R15,000 per month R1.67 vs R15,000. Isizwe provides far and away the lowest cost of deploying data in South Africa.

The total cost per annum to the City of the Free WiFi is dependent on the extent to which the City chooses to expand the deployment within the municipal boundaries.

Are there alternatives to the Tshwane Free WiFi model?

There are very few models that have been tested as thoroughly as ours. If a municipality is serious about helping poor communities empower themselves using the internet, and believes that such access must be free, then the Project Isizwe model and the Tshwane Free WiFi template are immediately available for replication.

This model has the lowest deployment and political risk, and the faster delivery speed (in less than 2 years Tshwane become the biggest public WiFi network in Africa), whilst also undoubtedly being the most affordable option available to a City.

How do I get involved?

Regardless of whether you are an average person or represent a company or government department, you can play a part in connecting South Africa. Here are some ways you can get involved.

What does Project Isizwe NOT do?
  • We do not do fibre. We do WiFi.
  • We do not cover wealthy suburbs. We do low-income communities.
  • We do not do 3G. We do WiFi.
  • We do not make a profit. Any surpluses are invested back in the network to make it faster.
  • We do not do paid-for WiFi. Low-income communities need free Wi-Fi, not affordable WiFi.
  • We do not do broadband. We do free WiFi.