Telkom subsidiary Openserve to offer township Wi-Fi
Telkom subsidiary Openserve will open its Wi-Fi network to other internet service providers (ISPs) as it seeks to boost its coverage in areas where it is not commercially viable to deploy fibre infrastructure.
It will pilot its wholesale Wi-Fi network offering in selected townships before the end of 2018.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (Satnac) conference in Europe, Openserve CEO Aphonzo Samuels said the company would work with township-based ISPs to resell its wholesale Wi-Fi network to end-users.
While he will not provide further details of speed and pricing, Samuels says the offering will be competitive with better speeds than those of other companies.
Telkom has thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots in shopping malls and selected restaurants.
It will now add Wi-Fi to its wholesale open-access offerings to complement its fibre network.
"There is definitely an opportunity for Wi-Fi as an alternative means of connectivity where the business case [for fibre] is a bit more difficult," he says. "Exposing communities to the internet starts on a small scale and will make a huge impact," says Samuels.
"We want to bring in community-based ISPs to start driving our wholesale open access Wi-Fi network."
Working with township-based ISPs will stimulate entrepreneurship and possibly lead to job creation.
Research ICT Africa stated in one of its recent reports that the connectivity model provided by public Wi-Fi networks may become a way to bridge the access gap at household level as it provides an alternative access model to expensive mobile data and fixed broadband services.
The rise in the adoption of smartphones has resulted in a spike in data usage and a rising demand for fast and reliable broadband networks. Mobile network operators are increasingly seeing Wi-Fi as a way to boost indoor coverage.
Openserve chief technology and information officer Hugo van Zyl says as more people adopt digital services, there is a need to focus on connectivity and access, which are the "fuel" for digital services.
Different technologies fit different purposes, he says. "People ask for fibre, and while it is more reliable, there are also other technologies to use for customers to access internet in a most sustainable way."
Combining Wi-Fi with the fixed-line and cellular networks is a natural fit, especially when mobile network operators are able to monetise the traffic on Wi-Fi networks and improve customer service.
Van Zyl has encouraged public and private partnerships to accelerate digital adoption because as a developing economy "we need to recognise that sometimes we are constrained by the resources that we have".
Samuels says Openserve has made significant strides in reducing wholesale prices and hopes this will be passed on to consumers. Openserve is working with equipment manufacturers to drive down the costs of infrastructure and its deployment, he says. The firm is also exploring new technologies that will enhance its business.
Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele says the growth of the digital economy depends on the telecommunication industry’s ability to deliver infrastructure and requisite applications.
The government will continue to use policies to hasten the creation of a "new digital economy", he says.