by Stephanie Kinch, Staff Writer, Wi-Fi NOW
An open-access Wi-Fi network infrastructure provider VAST is able to cover 10 million square meters of usable Wi-Fi space with their network. Internet access should be available to everyone – and a country-wide Wi-Fi network can make it happen.
That’s the goal of VAST Networks, an open-access Wi-Fi infrastructure provider in South Africa. With more than 10 million square meters of usable Wi-Fi space in their network, VAST is able to provide quality Wi-Fi access to areas that were previously unreachable in the country.
VAST CEO Grant Marais says that before his company came along, South Africa’s Wi-Fi presence consisted of random collections of hotspots.
“When you’re operating a collection of disparate internet hotspots, you’re not able to offer differentiated services,” he says. “You’re only able to offer a linear internet service over those.”
The problem with Wi-Fi islands
Marais spoke about so-called “Islands of Wi-Fi,” and what can be done to create more cohesion among them, at Wi-Fi NOW Africa in Cape Town last month. He said that the issue in South Africa – and many other countries – is that multiple operators create “islands” of Wi-Fi hotspots that consumers are unable to co-survive on. If a person subscribes to one Wi-Fi access service, it likely not available everywhere he goes. This location-dominated philosophy is expensive the consumer.
“You kind of got left high and dry on your island by not being able to reuse it on someone else’s island,” says Marais.
That’s why VAST Networks was formed: To create a ubiquitous service layer that any service provider or organization can use to offer a Wi-Fi product that consumers can access on the same basis everywhere they go. Operators like AlwaysOn have become VAST’s customers. With VAST, Wi-Fi in South Africa is now more like open-access fiber, where customers can choose and select a Wi-Fi service based on the provider’s offering, rather than location.
Wi-Fi for the masses
Marais says that to get consumers hooked on Wi-Fi, it’s important to put access in terms that they will understand. How many Instagram posts equal a gig? How many megs does one minute on Facebook eat up?
To help with this, VAST puts all the intelligence at the center of its network and has created a second layer network that faces inwards to, for example, pair with educational services or VoIP/minutes services. This allows consumers to use the Wi-Fi as an on-net or LAN-type service. For poorer areas, a digital content area with news, sports, lifestyle, and employment services is available for free to show the value of the internet to people with little online experience.
“If we think about people who really need access to data that have never had it, it’s people who have an affordability issue,” says Marais.
With 2,200 access spots in South Africa, VAST Networks works to offer internet access from any place, any time, and anywhere. Read more at www.vast.network