SA Wi-Fi growth will 'boost GDP'

2015-09-21 07:50 - Duncan Alfreds
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The City of Tshwane has a stated goal of blanketing the city with Wi-Fi coverage and has been successfully rolling out free Wi-Fi access for citizens. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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Cape Town – Wi-Fi access in South Africa is on a growth path, but more needs to be done to ensure the technology delivers on its potential to boost local gross domestic product (GDP), says an industry body.

"South Africa has just over 0.03% of the globe's almost 300 million Wi-Fi hotspots when the GDP value of our economy represents almost 0.6% of the world's output,” said Wi-Fi Forum of South Africa (WFFSA) president Andile Ngcaba.

According to research organisation BMI-T, SA has around 8 000 active Wi-Fi hotspots at more than 30 000 locations, with growth set to continue.

“Public Wi-Fi has gained a lot of popularity in the last 12 to 18 months and continues to gather momentum,” Christopher Geerdts, associate Telecoms Consultant at BMI-T told Fin24.

But Ngcaba, a former director general in the department of communications, wants to push the industry to produce Wi-Fi networks in partnership with mobile operators.

Industry engagement

“We need to deepen our engagement with the industry and sell the concept of the heterogeneous network," he said, referring to interlinked 3G, 4G, small cell and Wi-Fi networks.

Global mobile phone body the GSMA found that at the end of 2013, there were only 150 million people in the Sub-Saharan Africa with access to the internet.

"This is equivalent to an overall mobile internet penetration rate of only 17% of the total population, compared to a global average figure of just over 30%. This figure will more than double by 2020, reaching 38%, with an additional 240 million people across SSA gaining mobile internet access by that date," the organisation said in its The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2014 report.

In the meantime, the WFFSA in the past six months has engaged with industry stakeholders on how to best proceed with expanding internet access in SA.

"Operators restricting access to their networks is counter-productive and is holding South Africa back from achieving universal access and poverty-beating economic growth,” said Ngcaba.

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