Much is made of the trend towards more environmentally responsible information and communications technology. But with little fanfare, South African Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) are delivering high speed Internet services across the country with minimal impact on their surroundings.

One such company is the Western Cape’s Snowball Effect; through its choice of standard WiFi technology, base stations are unobtrusive, run off solar energy and don’t create dangerous levels of concentrated radio waves.
According to Snowball Effect CEO Eugene van der Merwe, its operations are ‘green’ by default. “With our head offices located in Stellenbosch, we’re surrounded by natural beauty. It would be unconscionable to impact upon this environment, especially since many of our clients are farmers or other rural connectivity consumers,” he says.
By using WiFi base stations, van der Merwe says it is possible to achieve the same sort of connectivity that is delivered by WiMAX or cellular base stations while using up to 90% less energy.
He explains that WiFi, as an industry standard technology, brings a number of benefits. Among these is the fact that equipment is cheaper, both at an infrastructure level and in terms of customer premise equipment. But it is in the base station that a real advantage lies. “There is no need for any amplification, in contrast to the other wireless technologies including WiMAX, iBurst and 3G. No amplification also means it runs directly off low voltage DC power,” van der Merwe says.
Using just 80 watts of electrical power, he conservatively estimates that a WiFi base station can service up to 100 end users, delivering a megabit per second connection. “That’s a lot of bandwidth,” he confirms.
“This low power requirement makes powering our base stations using solar panels highly viable. There is no need for cooling racks, air conditioning, generators and diesel fuel – just a couple of solar panels which are backed up by low-cost batteries which provide two days of supplementary power for uninterrupted connectivity.”
WiFi has another characteristic which residents will appreciate. It does not emit the potentially dangerous levels of radiation associated with cellular base stations. “While there is some contention over whether or not base station radiation is dangerous, WiFi sidesteps the issue completely. Compared to cellular, iBurst or WiMAX base stations the emissions are negligible,” van der Merwe says.
With the electricity constraints faced by industry, he believes it is necessary to run all aspects of a business as efficiently as possible. “The choice of WiFi provides for low cost base stations with negligible environmental impact. We can put up a base station for a tenth of the cost of a WiMax tower; that means we can pass on the lower overhead in terms of a lower cost of service to the customer.
“And, best of all, it means our operations don’t impact harshly on the environment.”