GautengÂ has taken a step towards implementing its so-called â€œsmart provinceâ€ strategy, with an extensiveÂ R1.2-billionbroadbandÂ project, designed to promote greater government efficiency, stimulate innovation and knowledge creation and lay the basis for higher levels of economic growth.
Following a review and organisation of the core and access-network dynamics to leverage existingÂ infrastructure,Â Allied TechnologiesÂ (Altech) secured a contract in February to roll out the five-yearÂ GautengÂ BroadbandÂ Network (GBN)Â project.
Before vacating his post, thenÂ GautengÂ Finance Member of Executive Council (MEC)Mandla NkomfeÂ toldÂ EngineeringÂ NewsÂ that the GBNÂ projectÂ had started to gain traction in 2009, when aÂ projectÂ management division was established.Â Barbara CreecyÂ took over as Finance MEC at the end of May after Nkomfe had withdrawn from the African National Congress (ANC) provincial government list â€“ he remains a member of theÂ GautengÂ ANC provincial execu- tive committee.
Guided by studies showing the required actions and way forward to boost access to the Internet at a reduced cost, tenders were invited in January 2013 â€“ nearly ten years after the concept was first mooted.
The proposed GBNÂ project, which was initially weighed down by a R7-billion to R10-billion price tag, is expected to be self-funding by the third year, reducing the provinceâ€™s capital outlay to R510-million, spread over the next two years.
The province, which remains the single largest contributor toÂ South Africaâ€™s economy and home to nearly 13-million people (24% ofÂ South Africaâ€™s population), already has somebroadbandÂ penetration. However, only 35.2% of its residents currently access the Internet â€“ 8.6% from their homes, 16.3% using their cellphones, 4.7% while at work and 5.6% from elsewhere.
It is hoped these figures will change as the 18-month design and roll-out of the next-genera-Â tion networkÂ and a core network advance. The expectation is that it will provide avirtual private networkÂ ofÂ converged network servicesÂ covering 95% ofÂ Gautengâ€™s population.
â€œThrough theÂ broadbandÂ network initiative, we want to provide a network that is available everywhere for government, business and citizens, and, subsequently, ensure that government service delivery is improved,â€ Nkomfe says.
This means linking, among other aspects, provincial government buildings to improve operational efficiency, as well as social facilities, such as clinics and hospitals, to promote service delivery; connecting specific economic centres to enhance efficiency in the provision of business services; reducing the cost of doing business â€“ one of the provinceâ€™s biggest economic barriers; and stimulating business activity.
Alcom Matomo, a subsidiary of Altechâ€™s newly formedÂ Altron Telecommunications,Â Multimedia & Information TechnologyÂ (TMT) unit, has been tasked with building, ope- rating and maintaining a province-Â wide broadband network, connecting 316Â GautengÂ provincial government-owned buildings, 45 identified Thusong centres, 20 priority townships, nine identified economic development zones and six urban-renewal nodes over a five-year period.
Altech partner Chinese globalÂ technology giantÂ HuaweiÂ will provide aÂ large componentÂ of the network equipment, while Dark FibreÂ Africawill provide the link to the fibre in the ground, incorporating 1 600 km of existing high-speed fibre optics infrastructure.
Eight priority nodes were targeted, includingÂ Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, in Soweto; 75 Fox street, which is home toÂ Gautengâ€™sprovincial financeÂ andÂ infrastructureÂ departments; andÂ Pretoria Academic Hospital, besides others.
The GBN, which will initially provideÂ voice and data servicesÂ for more than 130 000 government employees, will then be transferred to theÂ GautengÂ provincial government, with the training of several entrepreneurs and small, medium-size and microenterprises (SMMEs) under way with a view to taking over after the five-year period.
The GBN will introduce upgradable high- speed fibre-optic transmission speeds, enabling eachÂ GautengÂ provincial building to access the network at a speed of between 1 Gb/s and 10 Gb/s. That would be about 500 times faster than the current network speeds at some of these facilities, Altron TMT group executive for business developmentÂ Tim EllisÂ explains.
Faster speeds are projected to allow theÂ GautengÂ provincial government to implement its smart provincial initiatives and facilitate ancillaryprojectsÂ such asÂ telemedicine, elearning â€“ a flagship initiative ofÂ Gautengâ€™s information andÂ communication technologyÂ (ICT) strategy â€“ egovernment and ehealth, besides others.
TheÂ project, which emanates from the ICT strategy formulated by theÂ GautengÂ provincial government, is intended to transform the province into a â€œsmart provinceâ€ and a â€œconnected global city regionâ€.
With the delivery of converged services, such as video, voice and data, to theÂ GautengÂ provincial government and its entities, public schools, hospitals and social welfare facilities, the province will narrow the digital divide and increase Internet access and uptake.
Nkomfe adds that the job creation prospects of this initiative are immense, as the GBN is expected to create new job opportunities for small businesses in network-building activities, as well as in network support and management services.
Further, the province hopes to reduce the currently high costs of communication, which create a barrier for businesses, particularly SMMEs, and to enable citizens to participate in the knowledge economy.
Gautengâ€™s ICT strategy points out that increased ICT use by the business community will contribute to efficiencies and lead to higher productivity.
It can also increase â€œbusiness sophisticationâ€ in the SMME sector, which contributes a signifi- cant proportion ofÂ Gautengâ€™s gross domestic product and creates a large number of jobs through easy access toÂ business intelligenceÂ and markets.
Two-thirds of the more than one-million SMMEs in the local economy nationwide are engaged in small-scale trading or the sale of goods and are survivalist businesses. ICT can create new opportunities for them.
Further, ICT uptake can lead to new inventions, new and improved goods and services, new processes, new business models and increased competitiveness and flexibility in the economy.
While Altech has not been tasked with expanding theÂ projectÂ to the metropolitans, the GBNÂ projectÂ envisages linking all the massbroadbandÂ andÂ Wi-FiÂ initiatives under way in theÂ Tshwane,Â EhurkuleniÂ andÂ JohannesburgÂ metropolitans, as well as the eventual initiatives in municipalities, such as Sedibeng and Metsweding, where the digital divide is growing and the population is increasingly excluded from mainstream economic activities, owing to limited or no fixed-lineÂ broadbandÂ coverage.
Last year, the City ofÂ Tshwane, in partnership with nongovernmental organisationÂ ProjectÂ Isizwe, led byÂ Alan Knott-CraigÂ Jnr, became the first metropolitan to roll out freeÂ Wi-FiÂ to poor communities and edu- cational institutions in the capital.
TshwaneÂ executive mayorÂ Kgosientso RamokgopaÂ says the city will roll out about 600 additionalÂ Wi-FiÂ hot spots throughoutÂ Tshwane, prioritising institutions of learning over the next 18 months to mitigate the limitations of the poor to access opportunities, gain basic knowledge and participate in the mainstream economy.
The first phase entailed the provision ofÂ Wi-FiÂ access atÂ TshwaneÂ University of Technologyâ€™s Soshanguve campus, the University of Pretoriaâ€™s Hatfield campus,Â TshwaneÂ North College, the Mamelodi Community Centre and Church Square, in the city centre.
TheÂ projectÂ will extend to more than 200 schools in Soshanguve, Mamelodi andÂ AtteridgevilleÂ during 2014, as the parties will also implement freeÂ Wi-FiÂ access in these areas as part of Phase 2 of theÂ ProjectÂ Isizwe initiative.
Ekurhuleni is also currently rolling out its ownÂ Wi-FiÂ access services network and an ICT operations centre to ensure the fibre and wireless grid is properly connected, maintained and monitored 24/7, says executive mayorÂ Mondli Gungubele.
The network aims to provideÂ Wi-FiÂ services for the cityâ€™s employees, households and businesses by 2016.
JohannesburgÂ executive mayorÂ Mpho Parks TauÂ states thatÂ Wi-FiÂ has gone live at the Orlando Communal Hall and at theÂ ReaÂ Vaya stations of Orlando Stadium, and the Orlando Police Station,Â Soccer City, Noordgesig, Joburg Theatre, Park Station, Carlton Centre and Fashion Square, besides others. The City ofÂ JohannesburgÂ plans to roll out 1 000Â Wi-FiÂ hot spots throughout the city before the end of his mayoral term.
The cityâ€™s network will significantly increase access to the Internet, including open online courses, through libraries. A total of 35 libraries will be connected by June, with the cityâ€™s remaining 50 libraries having free Internet access by the end of 2014.
Note: Nkomfe has subsequently withdrawn from the ANC provincial government and stepped down as Finance MEC at the end of his term to focus on other sectors of the ICT sector. He will remain a member of theÂ GautengÂ ANC provincial executive committee.Â Barbara CreecyÂ took over the role of Finance MEC at the end of May.