Free WiFi: Namibia

By Kelvin Chiringa
August 2016
Prime Business

The global digital tide has swept right across Africa at an unprecedented speed, and in Namibia, this disruptive wave of technology has changed the face of conventional political institutions, transforming the economy from the very tiny bits of how people used to communicate, buy, sell and so forth.

This technological revolution has not only brought with it new ideas that have come to reshape the corridors of Namibian governance and service delivery, but has come in time to transmogrify the biological element of the Namibian national into a new complete individual, one who, pundits like Walter Lippmann have labelled “The Digital Citizen.”

Digital citizenship in a Namibian context is defined by an individual’s connectivity into an online world of information within which he/she intermingles with the political leadership and captains/boatswains who steer the economical ship, possessing inter alia, digital literacy, digital rights and responsibilities, digital security (self-protection) as well as exhibiting a crude and or rather refined digital etiquette.

Cognizant of this reality of technology that has brought about a digital transition to the face of Namibia, policy makers  have thus thrown in their spanners to the tune of chiseling foundations for a knowledge based economy where access to information is as vital as the right to clothing, water, shelter and food.

 And this brings us to Namibia’s urgency of adding to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the right to free/cheap accessible and efficient Wi-Fi in public zones.

“Access to Wi-Fi is fast becoming one of our basic needs, but service providers have the answer as to how we can bring this about,” concurs Parliamentary Member of the ICT Committee Steve Bizuidenhout.
The mounting digital communication options have altered everything because people are able to keep in constant communication with anyone else yet the irrefutable fact is, communication in a digital community through emails, text messages, calls or instants messages is underpropped by one factor which supports the entire equation and that is, the need to share and receive information.
The current strides being taken of erecting a knowledge based economy implies that at long last Namibia’s leadership acknowledges knowledge as one of the fundamental drivers of productivity and economic growth, ushering the new and old generation to a novel perception on the role of information, technology and learning in economic performance.

Yet as the Namibian cruiser is making its voyage across technological seas, its captains have to fast come to the realization that the storms and typhoons of the now and then can only be faced by a citizenry that has unlimited access to information, and the need for free Wi-Fi zones becomes an urgent human right.
From a more practical vantage, Namibians most probably do need Wi-Fi with the same  urgency as their need for water, shelter, food and clothing calls for, but access to and availability of internet is per se the oil which lubricates the complexities of work, service delivery and information sharing.

Information is power and unless one is connected to that source, one is powerless, faced with this urgency, the digital citizenry cannot be appropriated the prerogative to keep an audible silence when it comes to advocating for the need to realise Wi-Fi as a basic commodity at a policy level.

“Wi-Fi is indeed now a basic necessity, without connection people cannot do a lot of things, they may still do them without connection but Wi-Fi can enable them to be more effective, have access to information and other services, start-up their own business or companies. The internet itself plays a crucial in bridging the digital divide,” ‎reiterates Business Intelligence (BI) Analyst at Telecom Namibia Lameck Mbangula Amugongo.

And for the reason that the modern work environment relies on connection for smooth delivery during work hours, a glitch or total disconnection throws everything into an abys and the entire working machinery may refuse to kick and cuff. To this end, it is almost irrefutable that Wi-Fi becomes a need.  

 MTC’s effort to make smartphones be in a position to be owned by everyone is laudable and this creates podium to position the masses within the right place in the information age.
Yet this needs a follow up. Latest reports suggest that Namibia has more cellphones than its own people, yet to completely factor out digital poverty, the digital citizen needs to get connected.

Ownership of mobile technology by a majority that is internet-deficient is tantamount to a platoon that embarks on a sting operation with guns that are ammunition-bankrupt.
Powercom CEO Alisa Amupulo, in an exclusive interview with this journalist was dazzled by the prospect of a citizenry that survives in Wi-Fi zones and submits that Namibia’s population and geographical position creates a level playing ground for erecting the needed infra-structure.

“Our city is beautiful, we are not densely populated and geographically we are in a far better place to build infra-structure that makes it the more possible to have people get access to public Wi-Fi,” she enthused.  

 Yet it must be accepted that access to Wi-Fi for all through the provision of public Wi-Fi zones is no easy stroll in the park, it remains an expensive venture that requires costly sophisticated technologies that needs a competent ICT team to constantly service it as people mount their congestion.

“We have a lot of bandwidth that comes from the fibre optic cable, so as a country I think the only challenge maybe the absence of willingness from the providers, provision of Wi-Fi in public zones for all is possible, but the service providers still want to use data which is the main source of revenue generation and with free internet means that revenue generation is blocked,” says Amugongo of Telecom Namibia.
Being part of the West Africa Cable System, an ultra-high capacity fibre optic submarine 16 000km long cable means Namibia has so much bandwidth to the point that according to Telecom Chief Mobile Officer Armando Perny, the country has the capacity to export some of it.
National Software Engineering Academy Managing Director Aron Hamukwaya who hails from a prestigious Russian University where Wi-Fi was as free as pure oxygen believe a combination of political will and multi-Stakeholder collective conscience is the missing link to providing platforms that connects cities and towns online.

“There is need for a multi-stakeholder approach, Telecom has the infrastructure, the same network can be built on top of this or the infrastructure can be extended, of course this is an expensive venture but government can be assured of long term benefits if it invests in such a project,” says Hamukwaya.