By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 29 July, 2011

Some 100 registered wireless access service providers across South Africa are providing wireless connectivity services in urban and rural areas where other broadband infrastructure is inadequate or non-existent.

They are doing this by using the unlicensed 2.4 and 5.8 spectrum frequencies, which provide speeds up to 100 megabits a second, and linking to other infrastructure providers over longer distances. These entrepreneurial companies provide a varying range of coverage and offer telephony and internet services that in some cases are as much as 40% cheaper than any alternative.

They also often come to the rescue when businesses and consumers find their wired services cut off due to copper cable theft. For years many wireless access providers operated under the radar, until the regulations changed in 2007 and service providers were allowed to apply for a licence to set up their own infrastructure.

Today, collectively, wireless access providers represent the biggest competition to the major service providers and operators, says Steve Akester, CEO of Vlocity. “The mobile operators will not allow us to use their towers.”

Vlocity started setting up wireless networks in the Cape Town area in 2004 to provide services to businesses and consumers that needed immediate connectivity. One of its first customers was a pizza restaurant chain that wanted to broadcast video across 10 outlets and had battled to do it with ADSL.

“It was more difficult to get ADSL connections seven years ago,” says Akester. Since then Vlocity has set up wireless networks that provide last mile connectivity in five of the major provinces, and it is currently setting up networks in Kimberly and Bloemfontein to complete its national coverage.

The company uses Dark Fibre Africa and Neotel’s fibre infrastructure for it’s inter- provincial links and interconnects with ISPs and operators through internet exchanges like Teraco and Africa Internet Exchange. “Our customers can link to each other across the country without leaving our network,” says Akester.

He says much of the company’s infrastructure is in rural areas where there is little or no infrastructure. This includes a network that reaches from Uppington to Kimberly along the Orange River and runs on solar power.

Johan Kruger started Safricom Telecommunications in Potchefstroom in 2006 to provide wireless internet services for farms, small businesses, and university students in the area.
“We cover 80% of the area reaching as far as Randfontein, Westonaria, Carletonville, and Fochville, and we have about 1000 installations.”

The company has also set up wireless hotspots in Potchefstroom for students, which consist of 150 access points that provide coverage over a two square kilometre radius. “Our network also connects to the North West University campus’ network in Potchefstroom allowing students to roam between the two,” says Kruger.
He says Safricom is also providing wireless access to hotels and guest houses in the area, where a lot of European athletes stay when they come to train. “Potchefstroom has very good sporting facilities and a high altitude, which is good for training.”

The company also provided wireless infrastructure for the TV stations to broadcast the World Cup coverage in the area, says Kruger. Further afield, in Phalaborwa, in 2009, Eric Simpson and Emile van Rooyen set up BushGuru, which provides wireless connectivity to the town and surrounding areas, where there is a major problem with copper theft.

“The copper lines have been stolen so many times in this area that Telkom will not replace them any more and it is not cost effective to put in fibre,” says BushGuru director Kerry Simpson. This is a problem, because with the Phalaborwa gate to the Kruger park on the doorstep, the area attracts a lot of tourists who expect to be able to connect to the internet during their stay.

“A lot of the game lodges in and around the park do not get a cellular signal, so there is no 3G coverage.” She says the company provides Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony services over a wireless network that runs on the unlicensed 2.4 and 5.8 gigahertz frequency spectrum.

Customers wanting phone and internet services that have had their fixed line stolen can keep their existing Telkom number and connect to BushGuru wirelessly. “We route calls and data to them over the wireless network for a small monthly fee.”

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

Comments are closed.