Although Johannesburg was the first local government authority to get a licence to run its own wireless network, it was not the first to implement such a network. However, Du Plessis said the attempts by other municipalities to create their own networks were found to be illegal by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), the industry regulator.
Herklaas du Plesis, Deputy Director of IT: Communication Technology with a wireless LAN access point
"We applied for a private telecommunications network licence and radio frequency spectrum licence, and they were approved in December 2004."
The licence allows the City to use the Hyper-LAN band frequency for internal communications. Microwave repeaters are placed at high points, like water towers, to which smaller dishes on individual buildings have a direct line-of-sight.
Masana Technologies, the City’s IT outsourcing partner, in partnership with Multisource Telecoms, will ensure that the entire 1 600 square kilometres of the metro eventually will be covered.
Moving the City’s systems off a conventional 64-kilobit Telkom fixed line on to a 100 megabit per second microwave link means individual users have access to more bandwidth than previously.
"Due to good bandwidth available, all the City’s servers can also be moved to a centralised location," Du Plessis added.
The wireless network also ensures that the City benefits through not having to pay service charges; in addition, it needs less physical infrastructure.
"Once the capital costs of installation are paid up, there are no more line charges, which is not the case with fixed lines. Also, with wireless systems, there is no need for a fixed wall socket to connect to the network, while a single wireless access unit also supports up to 30 connections," Du Plessis explained.
The City normally spent up to R3,5-million a month on its bills for fixed data lines through switching to its own network, it has seen a return on investment in less than four months. Maintenance and service costs of the wireless network are expected to be about R2-million a year.
What is becoming clear is that Telkom’s stranglehold over telecommunications in South Africa is fast coming to an end and while Telkom is still the dominant player when it comes to fixed line communications services, initiatives like the proposed powerline communications service and the availability of wireless options will erode Telkom’s dominance in due course. Of course Telkom still controls some of the core networks and until those networks are opened up to competitors, Telkom will retain a degree of control over communications in South Africa.