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Why WiFi means much more to Africa

Why WiFi means much more to Africa

Recent changes to Africa's WiFi landscape has given rise to smart city deployments and will add economic value to cities, serving as a driving force behind development.

This is according to Riaan Graham, Sales Director for Sub-Saharan Africa at Ruckus Wireless, who notes that while the evolution of WiFi in Africa has been slow compared to that of international counterparts, there has been progress.

"WiFi in Africa has predominantly been reserved for businesses and airport business lounges but this has fast changed. Previously no roaming between access points and re-authentication woes stifled the growth. However, as roaming and streamlined SSID authentication became possible, WiFi access has now become simple to access and has spread across airports, hotels, coffee shops and restaurants, universities, and more recently, public venues and cities."

This view is evident in projects like Liquid Telecom's partnership with WiFi services management specialist GlobalReach Technology to offer services using cloud-based authentication, authorisation and accounting and customer portal management software.

There is also Google's Project Link which seeks to build metro fibre and WiFi networks to provide internet services in developing countries - the pilot has launched recently in Uganda.

Graham adds that Africa is likely to see more WiFi being deployed in cities and metro areas now than ever before. This is because the continent is driven by mobility and WiFi presents a significant opportunity to support mobile operators and improve their networks, as well as provide the additional access sought after by data hungry consumers.

"Six to twelve months ago, I would have said South Africa was ahead in terms of these deployments, but now other African countries are implementing some impressive WiFi initiatives, where even fixed-line operators are offering WiFi. What's more, looking at neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, the speed is incredible, where in some cases they are back-hauling WiFi to fibre, resulting in very high download speeds. They are also being incredibly smart about the use of WiFi – either monetising their investment by partnering with various business interests, or better mobilising communities via improved ICT."

Graham maintains that WiFi is one of the most expedient and cost-effective ways to increase both capacity and coverage of cellular networks with a tight focus on where traffic is heaviest.

He also notes that it will ultimately be a far more cost-effective way for MNOs to provide access to customers and for many rural towns have with no broadband at all.

With think tanks such as Research ICT Africa (RIA) conducting surveys in parts of Africa, it is clear that constraints to internet access and use as well as clues on how to tackle pertinent issues will continue to be unravelled.

RIA's ICT household 2017 survey will cover nine African countries including Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa and one of the areas of focus is the use of free public WiFi and community networks.

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