Low cost internet pilot project in Soweto empowers young people
By Gugu Lourie
FibrePoynt, Thabure Towerco and Phuthanang Youth Trust have installed a pilot network in Central Western Jabavu, Soweto. The pilot network offers the high-density township, situated south of Johannesburg, a cost-effective fixed internet solution for home. The solution will enable the introduction of digital solutions such as eLearning in this community.
FibrePoynt is owned by global firm POYNTING Antennas. Thabure Towerco develops, owns, and leases out telecoms’ infrastructure. Phuthanang is a community-based organisation focusing on youth empowerment and skills development.
In this case, FibrePoynt’s low-cost technology alternative gave coverage to up to 300 families in the high-density township. During this pilot project about 40 of these families subscribed and got connected to the internet with FibrePoynt technology.
The solution offers wireless internet access through strategically placed access points called Janus Consumer Access Points (JCAPs). Dual-beam Wireless JCAPs use a patented “corridor coverage” system, which covers streets in a neighbourhood rather than delivering blanket coverage through a single tower. The advantage of this system is the preservation of signal strength.
The system can provide speeds of up to 100Mbps to houses fitted with individual outdoor antennas linked to an indoor router as Customer Premises Equipment (CPEs).
Speaking to TechFinancials in an exclusive interview in Soweto, Andre Fourie, POYNTING CEO, said: “Our mission statement says we will get into Africa and getting everyone connected, but we have never been that successful, we have been more successful in Europe and Americas selling our antennas”.
“This is the first project I feel talks to what we want to do. So, for me, this may be small, but I am already thinking of 100 000 houses next year using this technology.” Fourie, the founder of POYNTING, says while the solution is low-cost, it is definitely not low quality.
FibrePoynt has partnered with Thabure Towerco, a 100 percent black-owned company. Thabure Towerco is a new generation enterprise – owned and managed by black entrepreneurs. They have hands-on professionals with extensive telecoms experience in South Africa and across the continent. Thabure Towerco teamed up with Phuthanang Youth Trust to deploy the pilot network. This move encouraged the buy-in of the community. It is also uplifting young people through skills development and jobs.
The trust is based in Soweto. It was established to develop life and vocational skills, as well as job creation opportunities for marginalised township youth. The trust has employed young people from Central Western Jabavu to deploy the pilot network.
Andy Songo, Head of Operations at Thabure Towerco, said the deployment of this pilot network in Central Western Jabavu was a historic moment. He said Thabure Towerco takes a youth developmental approach to deliver projects. “I think what we often forget is the social impact of things that we do,” said Songo
“For us to come here and engage with the trust to say it cannot be about Thabure bringing its people from its operations to this project and these youngsters sit on the side-lines and are just watching and wondering when do we get our opportunity.”
“We sense that by working through Phuthanang Youth Trust we’ve been able to assemble a bunch of dedicated young people trained by POYNTING on the technology that is yet to reach the wider world. So, they are at the frontline of technology development.”
Songo said youngsters involved in the project were paid directly from the trust and added that he has high hopes for the youngsters involved in the pilot network in Soweto.
“We hope these young people will organise themselves and form their own company. As we roll out this project, they can move from one place to another as our strategic partners.”
“They will earn income in their own rights, develop project management skills, and hopefully one day be as big as any other project management company and beyond.”
Eduard Walker, CEO of FibrePoynt, said Thabure Towerco were selected as partners because they already had a presence in the community.
“It is an important partnership; to be able to involve the community and uplift people,” Walker said.
“They had the programme and the infrastructure, from an organisational perspective, to be able to deploy the technology.”
Thabure is already in the telecoms space and has all the required licenses to provide this service.
“They are a capable and reputable partner that can deploy this technology. Thabure suggested the site,” said Walker.
The Fibrepoynt project is funded by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).
Mpho Sefalafala, ICT Portfolio Manager at TIA, said the agency was proud to have this innovative telecommunication network infrastructure system for connecting homes to the internet, developed to this stage, where it is piloted in a community.
“The provision of internet connectivity through wireless broadband networks is key towards bridging the digital divide and promoting social and economic inclusiveness.
“This technology enables the wider rollout of broadband networks to the inclusion of locations where the cost of installing underground fibre inhibits such deployments. The Fibrepoynt system essentially replaces the last-mile fibre in a normal FTTH (Fibre-to-the-Home) architecture, with the backhaul interconnected via fibre.
“Through our enterprise development support, a number of SMMEs will be enabled to competitively explore opportunities presented by ICT innovation, wherein they can speedily wireless networks in built-up residential areas.”
How is the project in Western Central Jabavu Empowering the Youth?
“My experience through this project has taught me so many things because I am also a student at Unisa specialising in information systems,” said Mphonyana Karedi.
“So, you know information systems at university are like a theory, but here I had to do it practically and get to learn many things. It has enhanced my level of knowledge and skills. I am extremely fortunate to be part of this project.”
Patricia Moletsane said: “I am a student at Unisa studying accounting. I believe we have put something useful in the community.
“We have a Saturday school, and we are looking to do that remotely. We might well do it; we have the internet, so why can’t the children stay at home and we hook them up with internet schooling.”
Akani Mabasa said: “I am from this community. I had been sitting around doing nothing until I was invited to take part in this project.
“With this project I have gained a lot of skills. I would also like to see local children learn using the internet home schooling.”
Duduzile Amanda Matsiliso, a saloon owner and entrepreneur, said: “I am also from this community of champions. I came to this project and did not have a clue as to how it works.
Peter Kopane, pilot network project manager, said: “it’s not only about giving back to the community, but also empowering young people with technology skills to get better in life.”