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Free WiFi is connecting minds, hearts and souls in South Africa: the Project Isizwe example

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the internet can be defined as:

“A global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols.”

That’s true, partly. As we advance into the 21st century, the internet as we know it, has transitioned into something else entirely. The internet is now malleable and can be sculpted into anything you imagine it to be. Over the years, the internet evolved from a tool for knowledge and communication to an enormity we are struggling to comprehend. According to Business Insider, the internet contributes to three percent of the world GDP and forms 20% of economic growth in the last five years. With that said, pioneers in the field have accepted that the internet has become a human right. Internet access now offers endless opportunities and can be leveraged for social and economic development for betterment of mankind. A few years back, the same idea reached South African shores.That idea led to the birth of Project Isizwe.

From its inception, digital equality remains at the very heart and soul of the Project Isizwe initiative. Leveraging the online platform for social networking, e-learning, and small to medium business enterprise development is essential for both community and personal growth. Therefore the best way to achieve digital equality was for the government to deploy public free WiFi networks in areas that needed it most, which was low-income communities. With that said, Project Isizwe holds a vested interest in tackling inequality of all forms across South Africa. Free internet access needs to be regarded as public utility that services basic needs, likewise with water and electricity.

So let’s go back to where it all began. In 2012, MXit started a revolution with Stellenbosch municipality to offer free WiFi in public spaces. The relationship between Mxit and the municipality became symbiotic, as the municipality could provide electricity along with premises whereas Mxit had additional bandwidth due to fibre capacity. There was an abundance of fibre but there were not enough vendors tapping into it to provide affordable internet access. The fibre pricing model was still in the infancy stages as companies purchased fibre pipes and only utilized a sliver of its total capacity. The combination of excess bandwidth laid the foundation for Project Isizwe to deploy WiFi networks as we know it today.

In the span of two and a half years, over 776 sites have been deployed across Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and Limpopo. This was no easy feat, as commitment was essential between the government, private sector and the project founders.

The initiative, specifically the Tshwane Free WiFi service, has since been awarded the “Best Connectivity Solution for Africa” at the 2015 AfricaCom Awards and is hailed as an innovation for high quality, yet affordable telecommunication services across the world. However, state-of-the-art infrastructure means nothing without diligent app and technical support.

Following the launch of Tshwane WiFi Voice , an app that offers users free calls over the Tshwane Free WiFi service, Project Isizwe went on to win the “Best App for Africa” at the 2015 AfricaCom Awards, beating many corporate tech giants across the continent. Ultimately, the successful mantra behind tech start-ups is not only defined by the infrastructure, but the people with willpower to drive it to greatness.

Two of the Project Isizwe founders, Alan-Knott Craig and James Devine were regarded amongst the most influential IT personalities of the year for fuelling the project with such passion and enthusiasm. Such dedication and commitment trickled down to those on the ground whom are working tirelessly to take the initiative from one milestone to another.

Project Isizwe strives to make a difference. This is certainly infused in the DNA of the initiative and we are seeing massive ripples across the community. Tshwane Free WiFi users see this as a window of opportunity to a better life for themselves and those around them. With that said, 23-year-old Martin Nyokolodi took advantage of this service, by broadcasting his very own Internet radio station, ZAsong.

Nyokolodi noticed that there were no radio stations where he was living and decided to start his own to fill the gap. Martin interacts with his listeners by utilizing social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to promote his radio station. Using Tshwane Free WiFi, he is able to run his online streaming radio station, which broadcasts for two hours a day. He has since been inducted as a WiFi champion due to his commitment to sharing and connecting other WiFi users. The WiFi champion initiative has helped connect many users across Tshwane. He has certainly inspired others like himself to greater leverage the benefits of internet access.

A free service is often associated with the term “low quality”. With that said, one would expect a free internet service to be slow, unstable and not very secure. Project Isizwe bucks this trend by offering a free, yet premium WiFi service to its users. Tshwane Free WiFi offers world-leading average speeds up to 15mbps with a limit of 500MB of data per device per day. That’s equivalent to 15 gigabytes a month, which is completely free with no strings attached. Networks work on the notion where the bigger it gets, the faster it gets, thus making it more reliable.

Small to medium enterprise businesses also benefit as the initiative employs human capital to help design, build and deploy these WiFi networks. This makes the project a win-win for those involved, and to those such services are being offered to.

The network has since seen increased web traffic to educational resources but more notably, users are seen to pursue job searches on job platforms such as Gumtree and Careers 24. Therefore, it was imperative that the initiative granted unlimited access to job search, education resources,news sites such as eNCA and CNBC Africa. The endeavour hopes to make their users more knowledgeable to the world the day before, and essentially making Africa a more connected continent for all. This is certainly the start of something great.

“Give a man a fish feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime – but give a man the Internet, and he can teach himself how to fish, and anything else he wants to know.” — ahumanright.org