Solar-powered ‘WiFi bench’ pops up in Johannesburg

Fitted with USB charging points, free WiFi and a comfy seat, a solar-powered bench has popped up in Johannesburg’s trendy Braamfontein.

The Isabelo Smart Bench, as it’s called, is touted as the Africa’s first initiative to bring life (and wireless internet) to public spaces in South Africa, using “smart” benches.

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In order for this project to take shape, the team of Isabelo has partnered with property developer group South Point.

“We are excited to be partnering with the team from Isabelo, as its Smart Bench concept dovetails with our strategy to rebuild Braamfontein as an inclusive, multi-dimensional and student-friendly live-work-play destination district,” says Ndumiso Davidson, the CEO of South Point property developer group.

Read more: You can now get free WiFi when you fill up your car

A prototype of the bench has been tested in the Maboneng Precinct earlier this year and is said to have been welcomed by users as a life-changing urban facility.

Louise Meek, the founding director of the Isabelo Smart Bench, explains in a press release that the cement bench was designed with the intention of democratising public spaces and providing 100% public access to the internet.

“In this way Isabelo aims to reduce the digital divide in African cities and create inclusive, vibrant public spaces where everyone feels welcome to sit down and get connected,” says Meek.

Read more: AlwaysOn, Uber testing WiFi for UberBLACK rides

Meek adds that South Africa has 23 million smartphone users, equating to a population penetration of over 47%. After Nigeria and India, South Africa ranks third in terms of the mobile percentage of total Internet traffic, which is currently at 57%.

The launch of the official Isabelo Smart Bench comes at a time when we’re seeing more and more free WiFi initiatives taking shape across South Africa. The most prominent player seems to be non-profit Project Isizwe, which boasted over 700 000 internet users earlier this year.

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