We live in a generation where internet use is at its highest, whether connecting to social media to access information or checking emails, the internet is a necessity.

But the cost of data still remains a big hurdle for the majority of South Africans. This is where the rise of free public WiFi hotspots can play an assisting role.

It’s a solution that local government has taken notice of as well, adding that it wants to see more of these kinds of services popping up across the country to help citizens who do not have ready access to the internet.

A local need

The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) minister Siyabonga Cwele has been particularly vocal when it comes to free public WiFi hotspots being rolled out in South Africa.

Public WiFi programmes are important as they help address issues of inequity for the communities that can’t afford high costs of data”, Cwele said at the Gauteng Technology Innovation Conference earlier this year.

Furthermore the South African government has prioritised the national broadband project S.A Connect (PDF) to improve access to modern communication tools and services for citizens.

S.A Connect aims to deliver 100 percent broadband connectivity to government facilities by the year 2020, and is also expected to deliver broadband access to 90 percent of the county’s population by the same date and eyeing 100 percent by 2030.

This is good news as we will be able to connect to the internet anywhere in the country, but many are currently still facing the issue of data packages being quite pricey on most networks.

There are a number of free WiFi hotspots but as with most things in life there are some pros and cons to using them. Let’s explore shall we?

The benefits of free public WiFi

  • Having public WiFi is convenient as you would be able to work anywhere that has connectivity and at any time.
  • It allows those without internet access the ability to do research, search for jobs, as well as to connect to social media.
  • Most of the government-funded public WiFi’s are free, which means you save money on data charges.
  • Providing free WiFi at schools, universities and colleges allows students as well as teachers to have access material for educational purposes such as ebooks.
  • WiFi technology applied to healthcare services largely improves hospitals and clinics performance. This is because doctors and other medical staff are able to have instant access to a patient’s clinical information among other things.
  • It increases customer satisfaction with regards to the commercial sector such as restaurants, malls, bars and coffee houses, as you are able to surf the net while shopping or eating.
  • Hotspots in airports and hotels are convenient as you are able to communicate with your family and friends while away.

The shortcomings of free public WiFi

  • WiFi hotspots are not widely available in rural areas.
  • Some hotspots can limit access to a certain amount of data. Once that allocation is exhausted you may need to purchase a voucher.
  • Public WiFi is accessed by numerous people at the same time, which results in the network being slower because of user traffic. The more people in the mall for example, the slower the connection speed will be.
  • If you do not update your smartphone regularly, your device has a higher chance of getting infected by a virus.
  • Because anybody can log on to a public WiFi network that means cybercriminals can easily compromise the network and grab data at will.
  • WiFi hotspots are often limited in range, which means the further you move from it the lower your performance might be.

Where free public WiFi is available in SA

The collaboration between Project Isizwe and the City of Tshwane with the WiFi Tshwane project is leading the way in terms of WiFi in the area as it has seen over 1.3 million devices connected and offers a daily cap of 500MB with over 780 hotspots. It has helped connect residents all over Tshwane from libraries and clinics to swimming pools, schools and bus stations.

Project Isizwe has done groundbreaking work in rural Limpopo as well, allowing more than 11 000 people to access high-speed internet for the first time.

For those of you who are #PassportGang, Airports Company South Africa is providing free WiFi services for passengers in the boarding areas for the six international airports in SA’s major cities, as well as their domestic airports in East London, George and Kimberley. It offers users services of either four hours of WiFi connection or 500MB to 1GB of data depending on which airport you’re at.

For Johannesburg residents, the Jozi Digital Ambassadors are an organisation contracted to help residents connect to up to 300MB per day via free WiFi hotspots at more than 80 libraries, 30 clinics, selected Rea Vaya bus stations and government buildings across the city.

For City Bowl natives, City of Cape Town Municipality also has connected over 608 000 devices and offers a daily cap of 100MB at over 206 free zones, with signs in public areas to indicate where you can get connected. Places such as clinics, administrative buildings, traffic departments and cash offices make up the free zones.

Finally the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) is leading the public sector to develop more mobile hotspots in Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay and has allocated a 100MB daily cap to its occupants. If you’re in Walmer, KwaMagxazi, KwaNabuhle or Kruisrivier you can also connect to the free WiFi.

With more free public WiFi hotspots being added to the map each month, there are fewer and fewer barriers to internet access in South Africa. Long may it continue.

[Image CC 0 Pixabay]