T-Zone hotspot pilot on track

With the current ICT world trend being focused on wireless communication, South Africa providers are also opting to invest in this new, but growing, environment.

Telkom SA Ltd.'s T-Zone initiative is one such offering. The T-Zone hotspot pilot was launched last year, and is currently still in its pilot phase. According to Mike Vos, product developer at Telkom, there are approximately 65 sites across the country running the pilot, making use of the 802.11 b WiFi protocol. Telkom aims to have 100 pilot sites up by July of this year.

Says Vos: "Through the pilot project we are doing network-sizing to establish what would be the best possible solution, with the necessary bandwidth, in delivering wireless Internet connectivity to business people."

According to Vos, Telkom, in this respect, is not focusing on the general public and coffee shops, but on hotels and conference facilities where business people are usually found. "In SA (South Africa), people are not yet accustomed to working at coffee shops," he says.

"We have gathered a lot of information about usage patterns from the pilot to date. One of our findings is that, although there is hype around WiFi and wireless Internet connections, far fewer people are actually using the technology in SA than the hype suggests. Even people with WiFi capabilities do not use them."

Steven White, product development executive at Telkom, notes, "We have learnt that notebook users have been slow to install WiFi cards since the pilot started. They have rather adopted a "wait-and-see approach, given the low user base in the country."

According to Vos, users and institutions where the pilots are running are very positive so far. "The main feedback that we are getting concerns bandwidth. Users comment that it is good, he says."

Most of the pilot sites have 512kbps bandwidth capability, and, says Vos, have a limit of 16 users, as a maximum, on a 512kbps connection, in order to give each user enough bandwidth when used at full capacity. "We would rather have users not have a connection, than a connection with such bad bandwidth that users cannot get anything done," he adds.

Vos also notes that since the start of the pilot there has been no site where a maximum user capacity has been reached. "We have tested the connections on maximum capacity (16 users per 512kbps bandwidth) at our own sites and found no problems. We will make sure that users do get the bandwidth that they pay for," he says.

T-Zone, envisioned to be commercially launched in July this year, will follow a cellular billing approach.

Concludes Vos: "Users will be able to buy 'air time' with their credit cards on a price per minute basis. Although we do not have a pricing structure as yet, we can say that prices will be market-related and possibly between R1 (US$0.14) and R2 per minute."

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