Project Isizwe and the City of Tshwane’s free WiFi network has been growing well for the organisations over the last few months. It’s about to get a lot bigger, if we’re any judge, with the launch today of three new services which collectively add up to a lot more than the current offering.
So what are they?
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) is nothing new in the tech landscape. We have Skype, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp calls and more in convenient app form. WiFi Voice from Isizwe is similar to these: users download an application that links their phone to the network and through this app WiFi to WiFi calls are free.
If you aren’t connected to a WiFi hotspot don’t worry, using a data bundle you can call another registered user for as low as 10c per minute.
While WiFi Voice integrates with your phone contact directory, though, it’s not quite as ambitious as we hoped. Isizwe has been pipped to the post by Vodacom for truly integrated WiFi calls which use the regular dialler to switch between WiFi and the cell network mid call.
We are expecting more news on the latter from Isizwe and a network partner soon, though.
WiFi Drive In
Our favourite new service is WiFi Drive In, launched today at Fountains Park. It’s basically a reinvention of the drive in movie theatre, except that viewers watch films on their tablets or phones while connected to free WiFi. It’s collective viewing in that film goers gather in one place that’s probably outdoors, but what you actually watch is down to you.
According to Isizwe, titles from Sony, and Warner brothers will be available for user to browse through. Through a simple registration on the Tobetsa Portal users will be able to stream high quality movies directly to their phones.
There’s no extra charge for the films as long as you’re connected to Isizwe’s WiFi – just pick a title and start streaming.
To put it another way, you’re getting a Netflix-like service for free. The selection of currently playing films isn’t terrible either, and includes titles as recent as Guardians of the Galaxy and more.
Executive Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa said that this service will get young people off the streets and keep them busy enough to not cause trouble. At present WiFi Drive In is only available in select areas including Fountains Park in Fountains Valley, Die Draai in Bronkhorstspruit and Dinokeng Theme Park.
Young people under the age of 25 account for 51% of the City of Tshwane’s population, and as we all know the young uns today like their instant messages. So it’s inevitable that City of Tswane has implemented a free Wifi Chat service where people can freely chat to their friends and family at no cost. All you need is to be connected to a Tshwane Free Wifi Hotspot and log into the Tobetsa Portal. WiFi Chat has been integrated with the City of Tshwane’s Customer Care Centre to put a stop to endless waiting times while trying to log a fault or report a pothole.
There are currently 673 free Wifi sites throughout the City of Tshwane with an emphasis being placed on constantly improving and widening the reach of the network.
“We are all trying to deal with the same problem of inequality. There are all sorts of inequality and we believe we can solve this by bridging the digital divide” said CEO of Project Isizwe Allan Knott-Craig Jr
While the launch of a free calling service sounds like a charge into the territory of mobile network operators, Knott-Craig Jr says that this is not a part of their plan.
“In my opinion and I might be wrong, the future of telecoms is not wired, there may be fibre to a couple of rich people but the future is wireless. Our approach is two tier. Like water you get tap water and bottled water, bottled water people pay for, tap water is free and provided by the government and that’s where we want to come in” Knott-Craig said, “We don’t go into people’s homes and we don’t want to compete with mobile operators. We want to be able to provide WiFi within walking distance of people’s homes.”
At present Project Isizwe is also available in Eastern Cape Universities where they have partnered with the Department of Higher Education, a site has just been launched in Limpopo, And Knott-Craig hopes to increase the reach in KwaZulu-Natal and hopefully one day Jozi.
“The dream is big but the dream is to connect every citizen to free WiFi, why not?” he said.
Lastly if you think that this is a cheap, slow WiFi network think again. This is the result of a Speedtest I ran while typing this article up at the launch. Read it and weep.