Having a free and public wireless zone has long been touted as an essential means to creating truly smart cities. In addition to allowing people to research the closest good restaurant, connect with friends and gain easy access to data, a public Internet connection there are many other benefits to having a free public Wi-Fi zone.

Disaster relief, for example, is simplified by the fact that messages can be sent to everyone in an affected area. A public Wi-Fi zone does not need much power, so a small generator or solar panel will keep it running. Education and digital literacy are guaranteed to grow through access to public wireless zones, as is the ability to promote cities and regions to tourists.

Public Wi-Fi also provides benefits for the administrators of smart urban spaces. Acquiring data for economic development planning becomes easier, and it has even been used to increase the use of public transportation in some US cities.

Alan Knott CraigFormer Mxit CEO and founder of non-profit organisation Project Isizwe Alan Knott-Craig launched TshWiFi in 2013, connecting more than 1.8 million people to the Internet through 90 million logged sessions over 803 Free Internet Zones (FIZs) in Tshwane since its launch. TshWiFi was built by Project Isizwe, whose sole mandate is to provide free municipal WiFi in South Africa. The city of Tshwane was Project Isizwe’s first WiFi project and remains its biggest, with full funding from the city’s municipality.

Project Isizwe has also established free internet WiFi connectivity in the Western Cape, rolling out capacity for 40 000 users around schools in Atlantis and Robertson. Apart from allowing users free internet through WiFi connectivity, Project Isizwe has developed a content portal called ‘Tobetsa’.

“Tobetsa is designed to give users access to uncapped curated content. This content is focused on education, skills development and employment, and gives local communities the power to access information, education and jobs online, empowering them to participate in the mainstream economy like never before,” says Knott-Craig.

“The World Bank estimates that for every 10% penetration of Internet access, a country’s GDP grows by 1,28%. Project Isizwe works with local, provincial and national government to provide WiFi in low-income communities for the purpose of education, economic development and social inclusion, enabling access to the Internet as a catalyst for change. I realised that unless the government provides free Internet, most South Africans will be blocked from exploiting the power of the web. I think the internet is the most empowering tool in the world. Education, jobs, commerce, healthcare, politics – the internet makes all of it more efficient. Free WiFi for all South Africans will give our country the best chances of a bright future,” he adds.

Knott-Craig will talk about his free WiFi movement at the South African Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC) annual Research Conference, which will take place at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton on 17 May 2017.04.04

According to SACSC CEO Amanda Stops, the 2017 instalment of the annual SACSC Research Conference is going provide insight and “expand the horizons of all those who attend”. She adds that free WiFi in retail and shopping centres has its place too, allowing consumers a chance to stay connected with trends, sales and important information.

Free WiFi can also improve marketing, increase customer dwell time, and increase customer spend. All of these features will be discussed at the conference.

For more information on 2017 SACSC Research Conference, visit www.sacsc.org.za


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