Bringing a sustainable internet network to the Mpophomeni community

Equitable access to connectivity for everyone means that each community should have a connectivity solution that fits their specific needs and circumstances. At 48percent.org, we believe that facilitating connectivity is more than providing the necessary equipment and a physical connection to the internet. When we heard about the plans that Isizwe had to build a community network in Mpophomeni, South Africa, we felt drawn to the project and wanted to work with them.

To make a community network in Mpophomeni a reality, 48percent.org and Isizwe partnered up on this three year project. In June 2021, Isizwe started deploying the first of 20 WiFi hotspots throughout the community. Each of these spots will be maintained and monitored by a Reseller, who is able to offer affordable internet to the people surrounding their WiFi hotspot. By making the WiFi affordable but not free, it creates a network that has the potential to be self-sustaining and a contribution to the economy of the community.  To give an idea what is happening right now in the project, we asked our partners at Isizwe to answer a few questions about the project.

Can you explain in a nutshell how this project works?

Isizwe Express WiFi in Mpophomeni is a project designed to deliver affordable, reliable, and unlimited internet connectivity to the community, enabling access for citizens while creating a viable and sustainable business model for Isizwe. The 20 Isizwe Express WiFi hotspots that the project will deploy into Mpophomeni will provide a coverage network where paying customers can access unlimited, reliable internet. At the R5 (€0.29) a day for unlimited internet access price point, the connectivity is affordable for the community members. Sites are selected on the basis of both technical and economic feasibility. To be economically viable, a site must have the potential to sell a minimum of R1610 (€0.29) worth of data packs in a 30 day cycle. This is 11 R5 (€0.29) data packs a day. Once this target is met, each site achieves its goal: the sustainable provision of affordable, unlimited WiFi to citizens in Mpophomeni.

Why did you choose Mpophomemi as the site of this community network project?

In 2020 Mpophomeni was the chosen location of one Isizwe Express WiFi hotspot in collaboration with the One Life Church located in the heart of the community. This initial pilot site envisioned bringing affordable access to the beneficiaries of the church run programmes. As this project gained momentum and we started to see success at the site, Isizwe realised that the partnership we were developing with the team based at One Life Church had the markings of greater potential, were we able to expand the network. Mpophomeni is a community ripe and ready for the changes and developments that affordable WiFi offers to its members. People understand the value of being connected; the price point is right for the internet service that they want. This context made Mpophomeni an ideal location for expansion, and was the natural choice for the 48percent.org project.

What learnings have you already gained from the project inMpophomeni?

To date, we have had 3 big learnings on the Mpophomeni Isizwe Express WiFi project: 

  • Personal investment makes a big difference: for the first time in an Isizwe Express WiFi deployment, we have asked our on site Retailers to pay a nominal fee as their investment into the WiFi set up at their site. We have already seen that this investment by Retailers is having a positive effect on their dedication to keeping the equipment powered, to their personal demand for and usage of the network, and to their commitment to onboarding and selling to WiFi customers.
  • Installing at residences is increasing usage and sales: again for the first time, the first phase of this project has taken a focussed and deliberate approach to deploying Isizwe Express WiFi sites at people’s homes. The initial benefits here include high levels of engagement and around the clock on site monitoring from our on site Retailer partners who are fastidious about the reliability and stability of the internet in their homes.
  • Having a solid, highly participatory team on the ground has enabled additional learning. Our partners from the One Life Church site have proved to offer enormous and valuable capacity at the local level. Isizwe’s primary operations are geographically quite removed from Mpophomeni, so having a local team who can engage with users, support Retailers and speed up our service and product delivery has been a huge asset to the project already.

How involved is the community in planning, executing, and maintaining the network?

As a result of the existing and developing relationship with the One Life Church team, Isizwe has been incredibly fortunate to have additional capacity on the ground to work alongside local community members to plan and execute the project. In the planning stage, this is particularly valuable as the selection of sites is key in enabling economic sustainability over time. Having people who know where the demand for WiFi is, who know where people will buy and use it, and who know key entrepreneurial individuals who can drive sites to achieve their commercial targets makes a huge difference. From an execution and maintenance perspective, the local community will always have high levels of involvement on the level one support and sales side of things. Part of what the project aims to achieve is the development of technical capacity within the Mpophomeni community. In terms of the highly technical deployment and maintenance aspects, the project has provided the opportunity for the training and professional development of Aaron Khumalo, a young tech-savvy KwaZulu-Natal local from nearby Lamontville, who is being upskilled to install and support the network. This is a local talent development opportunity that will ensure skills as built and developed in the region.

On to the next stage of the project

Over the coming months Isizwe and the project team in Mpophomeni will be hard at work building the access points into a structural and sustainable part of the infrastructure within the community. For updates on the project keep an eye for upcoming posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. If you would like to know more about this project or are interested in collaborating with 48percent.org, we would love to hear from you!