In the wake of World Wi-Fi Day, WAPA, the Wireless Access Providers Association, is calling on government and industry in South Africa to rethink Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is a transformative technology that makes life convenient for some, but it is also the only affordable, high-performance broadband access technology for many South Africans.
The Association, representing over 220 operators of Wi-Fi networks and technology companies, calls for government in SA to officially recognise Wi-Fi technology as “the third pillar” of a national broadband strategy, as articulated in the National Broadband Policy. This strategy, to connect 100% of South Africans to the Internet at 10Mbps is extremely ambitious, and is fundamentally focused on two technologies: fixed line (ADSL and fibre) and mobile (3G and LTE).
To meet both the targets for connectivity, and for innovation and choice in the market, this policy is missing a critical factor – low cost networks in license-exempt spectrum, connecting communities over long distances. The most well-known, and consistently proven, technology here is Wi-Fi.
Says Tim Genders, WAPA chairperson: “Wi-Fi has proven itself again and again as not just a convenient way to connect your laptop or tablet to your home or office network, but also as a way to connect homes and offices to the national fibre backbone networks.”
It’s important to note that Wi-Fi has two main applications in operator networks. In public places, such as restaurants, hotels, government buildings, schools and more, Wi-Fi hotspots give people access to the Internet by connecting them over short distance to a high-speed backhaul network, usually a fixed line connection such as fibre.
The more important application in a national context is the so-called “point to point” or “point to multipoint” Wi-Fi, as a low cost, reliable and high-performance last-mile or backhaul link. This is what most WAPA members use it for, to connect a home, school or small business to a base station located on a high-site over many kilometres. Distances of 10-15km are common. This allows Wireless ISPs to bring connectivity to farms and villages in rural areas, or to households in urban areas where ADSL or 3G is not available, or prohibitively expensive.
Adds Genders: “South Africans can visit wapa.org.za, and find a wireless Internet provider in their area at the click of a mouse – setup is fast, and rates are very affordable with a variety of connectivity options, including Internet and voice services.”