City of Cape Town to expand area network, plans to discuss Wi-Fi pilot

The City of Cape Town is to expand its Metro Area Network over a greater area in the next few years, while initiating a 2013 study on the feasibility of providing public Wi-Fi access in the city.

With phase one of the network already complete – consisting of a 200 kilometres of optic fibre cable connecting 82 buildings to each other – the City is looking to expand to 800 kilometres of fibre and add more switching centres and aggregation sites, connecting 470 city buildings, including 112 Western Cape government buildings.

The decision to expand the network was motivated by the positive findings of the Cape Town Metro Area Network Economic Impact Study.

Officials at the City of Cape Town have also confirmed to HumanIPO that the city will also look into the possibility of piloting a Wi-Fi project in the city next year.

“Our roll-out of Wi-Fi access for the public has been limited to complimenting the SmartCape Access facility in all City libraries,” said Andre Stelzner, Director: Information Systems & Technology at the City of Cape Town. “We are however initiating a study in the new year to look at the feasibility of establishing [free Wi-Fi] in a pilot area of Cape Town. This study will consider not only the technical, financial and commercial aspects of such an undertaking, but will also shed light on the needs and current demand for public access.”

The immediate focus for the City is the expansion of the Metro Area Network, with Stelzner noting that “the City’s telecommunication strategy and roll-out plan has to date focused on the roll-out of optic fibre and wireless telecommunication network to address its own business requirements”. 

Mark Neville of the Telecommunications Department at the City of Cape Town told delegates at AfricaCom that the area network had already had economic benefits that could be increased by expansion.

“What has turned out to have the most financial benefit so far is the creation of an internal voice network between the 82 buildings,” he said. “The main financial justification is to expand the service to more sites. By the end of the process we will have expanded it to every building the City operates.”

Government as well as business buildings will also be included in the wider network, with the City also in discussions with the Ministry of Education over extending it to schools across the city.

“It would be a relatively simple affair to extend it to all of the schools in Cape Town,” Neville said. “We also intend to connect all of the national government departments in the city as well.”

Poorly connected areas of Cape Town and its vicinity would also have better communications as a result of the expansion, particularly those to the south of the city. “There is very little telecoms infrastructure of any kind,” said Neville. “The operators haven’t seen fit to install it so we are going to do it.”

With the greater capacity accorded to the City by the expansion, Neville said that third parties would also be able to benefit from the infrastructure. Trial customers are already using the infrastructure.

“We are making this infrastructure available to third parties. Now there are a set of tariffs for use of fibre infrastructure, and we can bill you,” Neville said.

In spite of this infrastructural expansion and the fact that they are making it available to third parties, Neville insisted that the City has no plans to compete with telecos.

“The city made the strategic decision a long time back that we didn’t want to become a teleco,” he said. “We didn’t want to compete with the private sector.”

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