Tshwane Free WiFi - Project Isizwe’s flagship initiative connects the Capital City
A big city with a big vision
The City of Tshwane, South Africa’s executive capital city, has a population of over 2.9 million people. Although a vibrant and diverse populous and a hub of economic activity, Tshwane is no exception to the high poverty and unemployment rates prevalent across South Africa.
In a city where 27% of the population live in poverty, the local government is committed to Tshwane becoming the African Capital City of excellence (Vision Tshwane 2055), with the vision “to bring WiFi within walking distance of every citizen” in a large-scale attempt to bridge the digital divide.
Tshwane is the first metropolitan municipality in South Africa to roll out Free WiFi and has the biggest government-funded public WiFi network on the continent. The collaborative partnership between the City of Tshwane and Project Isizwe has seen 1.9 million users from previously disconnected, predominantly low-income, communities successfully connect to the internet.
A novel model
The exorbitant costs associated with creating the purpose-built WiFi networks that are necessary for large-scale, city-wide implementation are often unaffordable to municipalities that have to allocate and spend budget carefully across multiple priority areas.
Project Isizwe’s non-profit structure allows the organisation to pool bandwidth and utilise the capacity of local internet service providers without incurring the the traditional excessive mark-ups associated with enabling connectivity. The organisation’s commitment to building collaborative working relationships with service providers in a way that facilitates development as a priority has made the roll-out of connectivity affordable and possible for the City of Tshwane.
Geographically, Tshwane is situated on South Africa’s ‘Highveld’ plateau. Relatively flat, the infrastructural challenge of establishing a dedicated high-site for reliable and stable line-of-site connectivity was very real. Project Isizwe found its ‘home’ at The Castle - literally a castle on a hill: central enough to transmit signals over the city, with a rooftop surface-area large enough for the necessary high-site infrastructure and with internal spaces that ideally house the Network Operations Centre. Using innovative configuration techniques Project Isizwe has created a feasible solution for providing open access internet connectivity in Tshwane.
Tshwane Free WiFi
The pilot project launched in late 2013, with 5 key sites identified and then enabled as Free Internet Zones (FIZ). Aligning to Tshwane’s academic stronghold status, WiFi was initially rolled out at 3 key educational institutions and in 2 high-traffic community centres: Tshwane University of Technology Soshanguve Campus, University of Pretoria Hatfield Campus, Tshwane North College, Mamelodi Community Centre and Church Square in the Pretoria CBD.
The second phase of implementation saw a further 213 FIZs begin to bring public spaces in the City’s sprawling township communities - Soshanguve, Mamelodi and Atteridgeville - online. In April 2015, Tshwane celebrated as Project Isizwe breached the half a million mark.
To date, Project Isizwe has deployed more that 750 FIZs across the City with an additional 700 planned for the Capital City by the end of 2016. FIZ locations are carefully selected public spaces like schools, healthcare facilities and community centres.
Like any big city, people in Tshwane are on the move. In 2014, Project Isizwe switched on WiFi Bus, which delivers a free experience to 350 000 connected commuters. Working in partnership with RADWIN, Project Isizwe is able to provide this world-first in mobile connectivity - vehicular mobile units on the busses connect to specialised high capacity base stations along the route to ensure uninterrupted connectivity.
WiFi for WiFi’s sake isn’t enough: how does Free WiFi have impact in Tshwane?
The sustainability of the Tshwane 2055 vision, lies in citizen participation to ensure ongoing City development. For the City of Tshwane, enabling and empowering citizens to increasingly participate in the City’s development is a key indicator of progress towards the vision and ultimately a necessary component in facilitating the citizen engagement that will contribute towards fulfilling the democratic ideals of South Africa. Further to the provision of Free WiFi, the City of Tshwane and Project Isizwe have enabled some key services to ensure that citizens are best served by the provided connectivity; able to utilise and take advantage of what the internet has to offer but also able to realise their collective voice and begin to authentically participate as active citizens.
In the connected world, the internet plays the important role of bringing people together. High data and airtime costs in South Africa continue to inhibit communication between citizens. Leveraging off of the Free WiFi, Project Isizwe and the City created two services which help the people of Tshwane connect with each other. WiFi Voice and WiFi Chat allow users to talk to each other, chat among themselves and connect directly with City stakeholders.
TshWi-Fi Movies is a video-on-demand service that gives users access to the best Hollywood movies on their personal device. The entertainment service is freely available every weekend, from 6pm on Friday until 8pm on Sunday at Fountains Valley (Fountains Rd, Pretoria), Union Buildings (Government Avenue, Pretoria) and Die Draai (Cathie St, Bronkhorstspruit).
Tobetsa is Project Isizwe’s specialised content portal, available for unlimited access. Tobetsa curates and whitelists the best content that the internet has to offer, giving Free WiFi users the opportunity to extend their online experience even once their daily 500MB cap is reached. The content is evaluated and selected for relevancy to the user demographic with particular focus on providing educational information and opportunities for skills development geared towards enabling employment. Also available via Tobetsa are key government and city-related resources. In this way, the Free WiFi service, extends to enhance social cohesion and facilitate e-Governmental services in the City, providing free access to constructive online content and tools.
WiFi TV is a hyper-local, video-on-demand, low production cost service available on Tobetsa. This Project Isizwe initiative provides informative, engaging and entertaining video content to audiences who would otherwise not have access to content that is actively produced for them, in their communities by young, local citizen journalists. At the heart of WiFi TV is a training model which not only provides high quality local content, but also formally facilitates learning and skills development for the young media producers who have become employed and empowered. Furthermore, the localised City specific content has created a communication channel between the citizens of Tshwane and local government, resulting in an ongoing dialogue of interaction. WiFi TV has produced more than 500 original videos with the increasing viewership consistently above 20 000 video views per month. The citizen journalism model central to WiFi TV is another innovative approach to helping citizens have a voice and assisting them in communicating to and with their local government.
As South Africa battles high unemployment challenges, job creation and access to employment opportunities is very important in Tshwane – one of South Africa’s youngest cities where 37% of the population are classified as youth. In an endeavour to more actively and directly enable social impact, over and above the provision of internet access, Project Isizwe has designed and delivered various training and development pilot programmes which have impacted directly on 694 beneficiaries. These training programmes span various industries and sectors and have at their core the intent to build capacity and develop skills in the young populations of South Africa enabling job creation, employment and facilitating entrepreneurship; contributing to helping young people become citizens who can viably contribute to the country’s economy.
Project Isizwe is committed to a long-term partnership with the City of Tshwane. The organisation’s capacity to deploy large-scale WiFi infrastructure at city level is showing people what is technically feasible and financially viable. The innovative approach to overcoming technical challenges and working with local government, showcases the feasibility of relationship building and partnership with government that is necessary to scale wider and bring more areas of South Africa online.
Smart and Free WiFi gets Jozi connected
The City of Johannesburg has recognised that Free WiFi is essential in enabling economic growth in South Africa’s largest city, home to more than 4.5 million people. As the City moves to bring public internet access to its citizens via 1000 Free Internet Zones (FIZ), Project Isizwe has partnered with local government to turn this into a reality.
The Information and Communications (ICT) sector has been identified as a priority sector in the city, with the power to increase productivity and significantly contribute to creating employment opportunities. Bringing the City’s people online is a strategic move to simultaneously grow this sector and ensure economic development in the metro.
Project Isizwe is working with the City of Johannesburg to put in place the initial 290 FIZs in high-traffic public spaces, primarily serving the City’s disadvantaged, low-income communities. Public spaces where connectivity has been identified as crucial include high economic impact areas and educational sites.
The Free WiFi will extend to support public service delivery including smart meters, intelligent traffic management and public safety. As such the City of Johannesburg premises and provincial and national government premises are among the initial sites to be switched on.
Project Isizwe’s groundbreaking mobile solution is planned for deployment to the City’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system - Rea Vaya. This will let commuters connect to the Free WiFi as the move around the City.
Jozi’s citizens connect to the internet on a capped but generous basis. 300MB of data are allocated to each connected device per day after which - once reached - users are able to make unlimited, use of the free content made available via the Free WiFi landing portal - a curated platform offering the best that the internet has to offer in the way of empowering, educational and employment resources.
The City of Johannesburg and Project Isizwe expect to connect thousands of citizens to the internet before the end of 2016.