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SA tech startups to benefit from WiFi, fibre, hub support in main cities

chaitawat via Pixabay

Tshepo Thlaku is one of hundreds of tech entrepreneurs in the country’s main cities that will be getting a boost with the laying hundreds of kilometres of fibre internet, rolling out new WiFi hotspots and vamping up of entrepreneurial support.

“I would say the hubs are driving startups to an extent,” says Tlhaku referring to the Gauteng province’s Innovation Hub and its various eKasiLabs township hubs, with which the City of Tshwane has partnered.

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His Pretoria-based company Pulego Communications in 2015 won a R300 000 grant from the City of Tshwane in an innovation competition, for a safety app that city metro police are now using to report crime and road accidents. Previously Tshwane metro police were using spreadsheets.

Hundreds of tech entrepreneurs in SA’s main cities will get a boost with the laying of hundreds of kilometres of fibre internet, rolling out new WiFi hotspots and vamping up entrepreneurial support

The entrepreneur says the city is keen to expand the service to allow city residents to report faults and service problems to the city authorities. A R2-million grant he won from a Belgium funded programme Tirelo Bosha, administered by the Department of Public Service and Administration, is helping to pay for the development costs.

Pretoria: Focus on hackathons

Tshwane spokesman Sam Mgobozi said the city aims to encourage more tech entrepreneurs to start up, through the establishment of the Tshwane Innovation Zone (TIZ) and by running open innovation challenges.

He said through the TIZ platform, aspiring entrepreneurs and tech startups are given an opportunity to present their business ideas or solutions to the city’s innovation steering committee, which can help them to pilot their solutions and ready them for market commercialisation.

In addition, the City of Tshwane has also budgeted R88.5-million for the 2017/18 financial year to fund the rollout of broadband.

“Our aim is therefore to seek commercial investments and partnerships to perfect the free WiFi model, and completely revolutionise the way Tshwane’s residents live work and play,” he said.

In September last year the city launched a review application in the Pretoria High Court to have a multibillion-rand contract for the construction of a broadband network set aside, saying the deal was awarded irregularly.

Mgobozi said on the advice of the city’s attorneys, the city will delay commenting in further detail about broadband case until the matter has been set down in court.

Cape Town: Fibre project halfway

However, in Cape Town the city is roughly halfway to laying about 1800km of fibre through its Broadband Fibre Network Project, said city councillor Raelene Arendse, who is the mayoral committee member for corporate services.

In all 908km of fibre had been laid by last month, with 366 of the city’s 572 public buildings connected to the network as of last month. The city aims to conclude the seven-year project in June 2021.

The network includes linking up entrepreneurial facilities such as the Bandwidth Barn in Khayelitsha and in Woodstock, which are provisioned for 1Gbps and 10Gbps network speeds, respectively, said Arendse.

She said the network is also increasingly carrying the city libraries’ SmartCape service in addition to internet connectivity provided by independent operators – together, these free services are intended for use by the public to access the internet for both personal and business purposes.

In addition, the city has installed and commissioned 881 access points for public WiFi at 232 hotspots, in the metro. Users are provided with 100MB of free data per device per day. As at 8 December last year, the number of unique users during the previous 30 days stood at 235 840 — up from 220 525 in September 2017.

Arendse said a formal business plan has been prepared for the expansion of the project, and is subject to review and council approval. “A tender to formally appoint two new commercial operators to provide services to the public using the City’s WiFi infrastructure and network has been awarded to Vast Networks and Cell C,” she said.

These service providers will be brought on to the network over the next few weeks.

WiFi is also provided on MyCiTi buses. The pilot project was finally approved in June last year. As of December last year, about 214 of a fleet of 338 buses are now carrying the public WiFi service. Users are provided with 50MB of free data per device per day.

Johannesburg: Faster internet link

In Johannesburg the city last month upgraded its internet link with Seacom. This, says the city’s director of mayoral communications Luyanda Mfeka has resulted in the initial internet link speed now being almost 10 times bigger and faster.

It has also allowed more than 500 City of Joburg WiFi hotspots to deliver the service to the public, he added. She said the city has deployed 80 additional sites with more than 130 hotspots, while the city is restore services where there are faults or issues.

The city has also set up a panel of suppliers for multiple services and is busy drafting terms of reference for the procurement of account managers or SMME resellers to assist with the expansion of Metropolitan Trading Company services to the private sector and the public.

“This will increase the Metropolitan Trading Company and City of Joburg revenue significantly while providing small businesses with technology opportunities,” he said.

The city is also engaging with the University of Johannesburg regarding a joint research and development partnership on telecommunications technology. “The engagement is still in the feasibility phase and will be presented for approval by the relevant authorities,” he said.

He said the city is also trying to improve ways of engaging all key role players in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, through Joburg network sessions, and currently engaging with the SA Insitute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) on possible courses that the city should facilitate going forward to help capacitate entrepreneurs.

Mfeka said while the leases with a private contractor running of four of the city’s seven entrepreneurship hubs were terminated on 31 December 2017, the city will “in the next quarter” be relaunching its hubs with enhanced service offerings in order to provide beneficial services close to those who need them.

Durban: Incubating tech entrepreneurs

Meanwhile in Durban the city’s SmartXchange hub aims to incubate tech entrepreneurs.

Thekwini Municipality’s Deputy Head of Communications Mandla Nsele said currently 66 small businesses are being incubated by the incubator, of which 98% are black entrepreneurs and 28% female. The hub currently has a 100Mb/s internet connection within the facility.

She added that SmartXchange also has a “soft landing’ agreement with the French Tech Hub to attract foreign tech entrepreneurs.

The incubator hosts pitching sessions and offers a R500 000 seed fund innovation grant. Currently 18 entrepreneurs have benefited from funding.

“The model is successful to such an extent that it now being rolled out to other local municipalities within KwaZulu-Natal. Such as Ray Nkonyeni Municipality, uMsunduzi Municipality and the Richards Bay Special Economic Zone,” she said.

She said foreign tech businesses are already on board and pointed to the recent investment by Samsung which is setting up a plant in Dube Trade Port and the company’s Tech Skills Academy which it initiated in KwaMashu. She said there are others to follow soon in other regions.

Other initiatives include a partnership with the state’s Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to provide seed funding as well as capacity building programmes for tech businesses and the establishment of Innovate Durban to assist tech startups. The city also runs a business plan competition called the Lion’s Den Programme aimed at tech firms.

Editor’s note (23 January 2018): Tshepo Thlaku’s surname as well as his company’s name was initially spelled incorrectly. In addition City of Joburg spokesman  Luyanda Mfeka pointed out that the city will soon be relaunching its hubs with enhanced service offerings in order to provide beneficial services close to those who need them. “Those hubs which were located in leased buildings are being relocated to new locations which will optimise access to residents and entrepreneurs,” Mfeka said. We regret the errors.

Featured image: chaitawat via Pixabay

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