In the wake of World WiFi Day this week, the Wireless Access Providers Association (WAPA), is calling on government and industry in South Africa to rethink WiFi.
WiFi is a transformative technology that makes life convenient for some, but it is also the only affordable, high-performance broadband access technology for many South Africans, according to the association.
WAPA, representing more than 220 WiFi network operators and technology companies, calls for government to officially recognise WiFi technology as “the third pillar” of a national broadband strategy, as articulated in the National Broadband Policy.
This strategy, to connect 100% of South Africans to the Internet at 10Mbps is extremely ambitious, and is fundamentally focused on two technologies: fixed line (ADSL and fibre) and mobile (3G and LTE).
WAPA believes that, to meet both the targets for connectivity, and for innovation and choice in the market, this policy is missing a critical factor – low-cost networks in license-exempt spectrum, connecting communities over long distances. The most well-known, and consistently proven, technology here is WiFi.
Tim Genders, WAPA chairperson, comments: “WiFi has proven itself again and again as not just a convenient way to connect your laptop or tablet to your home or office network, but also as a way to connect homes and offices to the national fibre backbone networks.”
It’s important to note that WiFi has two main applications in operator networks. In public places, such as restaurants, hotels, government buildings, schools and more, WiFi hotspots give people access to the Internet by connecting them over short distance to a high-speed backhaul network, usually a fixed line connection such as fibre.
The more important application in a national context is the so-called “point to point” or “point to multipoint” WiFi, as a low cost, reliable and high-performance last-mile or backhaul link. This is what most WAPA members use it for, to connect a home, school or small business to a base station located on a high-site over many kilometres. Distances of 10-15km are common. This allows Wireless ISPs to bring connectivity to farms and villages in rural areas, or to households in urban areas where ADSL or 3G is not available, or prohibitively expensive.