Wireless Africa identifies references sites

Published: 14 Jul 2008 (Full story (ITWeb), Staff Writer)

Johannesburg, South AfricaCanada is funding a new two-year pan-African wireless initiative to bring low-cost broadband to rural communities.

The initiative was set up in Pretoria last month and is being led by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's (CSIR) Meraka Institute.

Project leader Chris Morris believes wireless technology is a solution to connect remote communities on the world's least wired continent. “Why should rural, poor and remote areas in Africa be denied access to the information society through lack of infrastructure, or because of exorbitantly high telecommunications costs?” he asks.

“Through Wireless Africa, we will have an increased understanding of the reasons for this failure. This, in turn, will inform the development of business models that may contribute to addressing the challenge of sustainable solutions.”

Fifteen African countries attended the launch of Wireless Africa at the CSIR last month and several made bids to host reference sites for the project.

Three “respected organisations active in the field of wireless connectivity – Fantsuam Foundation in Nigeria, OneVillage Foundation in Ghana and Community Wireless Resource Centre in Uganda – were selected to set up reference sites for this project,” the CSIR says in a news release.

Criteria for selection were readiness in a number of domains (business, technology and research), entrepreneurship and sharing of outcomes.

“The three reference sites selected at the workshop have the responsibility to deliver in less than six months on a range of requirements. This will introduce the next phase, which is the replication by seven sites of the work done by the reference sites,” says Morris.

Morris is confident that as a pan-African initiative, Wireless Africa will make great strides through promoting innovative, cheap access in various contexts.

The Meraka Institute's Wireless Africa consortium partners include Sweden's IT +46, which will deliver hands-on training and technical advice in the areas of voice over IP and traffic management; Wire.less.dk, which is involved in the technical development of the wireless Internet technologies; KwantuMedia, which will lead a demand-side study and business modelling; and the University of the Witwatersrand's Link Centre, which is involved in policy research.

“To achieve lasting benefits, we will test and develop business models that support community-owned networks,” says Morris. “Infrastructure supporting these networks is owned and/or operated locally.

“The research and development of this project will result in easily scalable and replicable use of these technologies with high level of acceptance from end-users. This, we believe, will provide sufficient motivation to influence policy-makers and demonstrate the failure of the monopoly service providers in experimenting or allowing cheaper access technologies. Ultimately, Wireless Africa envisions the expanded use of ICT in remote African locations.”

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