Business Maverick

DIGITAL INCLUSION

Disruptive project brings fibre to homes in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch

Disruptive project brings fibre to homes in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch
The Kayamandi Fibre Project in Stellenbosch is about making telecoms better for everyone, down to the poorest of the poor, says tech entrepreneur entrepreneur Alan Knott-Craig Jr. (Photo by Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Through a new initiative, township residents can get super-fast, prepaid internet for as little as R5 a day.

Whether you live in a shack, a backyard dwelling or a brick-and-mortar home, everybody in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch, can now have super-fast, uncapped, pay-as-you-go data through a new pilot project aimed at democratising internet access.

With no hidden costs or monthly instalments, the Kayamandi Fibre Project appears destined to show that it is both possible and profitable to bring affordable, fast and prepaid internet to township residents.

Townships pose unique challenges to internet provision. It’s a largely cash-based economy and housing is high-density with variances in building materials, which impedes wireless signal.

But since other services such as electricity are delivered overhead, why not fibre too?

Tech entrepreneur Alan Knott-Craig Jr (formerly of Mxit and iBurst), is the founder of Isizwe — the company driving the project. He says in an explainer video on the Kayamandi Fibre Project’s website that it is not an alternative to mobile broadband cellular network technology.

“There will always be a need for mobile data wherever you go. The Kayamandi Fibre Project is about introducing a parallel layer of infrastructure to onboard internet users at a lower price point than mobile data.

“It’s about getting more people connected to the digital economy, and, ultimately, that means more people will be using mobile data.”

Bridging the digital divide

This is not a charity or philanthropy: it is entirely private sector-driven and for profit, to bridge the digital divide sustainably so it can be replicated anywhere across the continent.

“We believe there is a lot of money to be made at the bottom of the internet pyramid, just like Pep Stores has done by selling quality clothing at affordable prices, and like Capitec has done by bringing affordable banking to everyone.

“The project is about making telecoms better for everyone, down to the poorest of the poor.”

For just R5 per device per day, R30 a week, or R100 per device for a month, customers can get uncapped internet access from the township-focused ISP PayGoZo.

The product is simple: there is only one speed offering — 100mbps. All customers have to do is choose how much “time access” they want.

PayGoZo offers a pay-as-you-go service that is billed based on time rather than data use. It is provided aerially and every home and shack is connected from day one. Aerial fibre deployments are less costly than putting infrastructure in the ground, and those savings are passed on to the customer.

The only catch is that access is per device, but the network is ubiquitous, ie it is designed so that you can connect to it from anywhere in Kayamandi… whether at home or visiting someone down the street, you will be connected, explains PayGoZo co-founder, Richard Henn.

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“Our product is based on access to the internet for a single user. You’re certainly able to take that and to share it between your smart TV, your mobile phone, your laptop and yourself — but it’s for one user only.”

Customers top up through the PayGoZo web app using VulaCoin, a blockchain-enabled payment solution, which allows users to transfer money at no cost and to purchase data on a small scale; via internet banking; Flash, digital voucher technology that operates primarily in the informal market; through Kayamandi resellers who collect cash payments, or through corporate sponsorship (eg employers buying data for staff or promotions offering internet access in exchange for advertising).

At least 3,100 homes in Kayamandi have been connected since 1 August, with a further 1,400 expected to be covered by the end of the year as part of the pilot project. The rest of Kayamandi will be connected early next year.

Asla, EasyEquities, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, Nokia, Cambium Networks and Hexatronic are partners in the project, which is intended to be expanded to other townships in South Africa — and then across the continent.

To reach profitability, Henn said PayGoZo needs all pilot customers to sign up for at least R100 a month. They’ve already done so much better. As of Monday last week, the project had more than 10,000 unique users registered on their network and making purchases via the PayGoZo app. It has also pushed more than 25 terabytes of data through the network.

There’s a lot of ground to cover, Knott-Craig says, and no single operator will be able to do it all, which is why they are going to open-source their playbook.

“[It will] look at everything about how we achieved community buy-in to the service level agreements required for subcontractors to build at the right quantity, at the right price metric, to winner strategies to maximise uptake and revenues to make these metrics profitable to the financial models required by the banks to provide data.”

Community buy-in

None of this could have been possible without teamwork and community buy-in, says Knott-Craig, crediting chief community liaison Tinyiko “TK” Khoza for helping Isizwe navigate the township economy and win over the community.

Khoza told Daily Maverick that township residents don’t want free wi-fi. “We want to pay for good-quality internet, and fibre is the way to go.”

TK, who put together the community liaison programme for PayGoZo in the township, says they needed residents’ consent as protection against crime as the community would be looking after the assets. And because they had buy-in, PayGoZo didn’t need additional security. Nor did they need to market themselves: Instead, the community liaison teams approached the owners of spaza shops and containers to ask permission to paint their logos.

“I’ve never seen a company like PayGoZo, which is committed to local employment. They created jobs for 70 construction workers and 12 field agents. When the technicians go into homes, they treat homeowners with respect and professionalism.

“Every day we are inundated with calls from people, asking when we are putting fibre in their homes.”

Knott-Craig says what they have achieved in a relatively short period is unprecedented. 

“It wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work, sleepless nights, sacrifices and commitment of the PayGoZo team. In particular, James Devine, Jared Honey and Matthew Campbell.

“But the most important person over the past few months is… Richard Henn, who has proven himself to be a true leader in the South African telecoms industry, bringing together an amazing team and delivering super-fast, super-affordable prepaid fibre to thousands of Kayamandi residents, and hopefully proving to the country that there is a solution to digital apartheid.” BM/DM

Disclaimer: Alan Knott-Craig Jr is a shareholder in Daily Maverick

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