e-Mbizo readies free Wi-Fi rollouts in Alexandra, Soweto

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South African startup e-Mbizo, which provides community Wi-Fi networks in under-serviced townships and rural communities, is set to roll out networks in Alexandra and Soweto in August and September respectively.

Disrupt Africa reported in March on e-Mbizo, which deployed its first network in Tembisa, Gauteng, in 2012. It has thus far rolled out infrastructure across hundreds of kilometres in South Africa’s Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, and connected more than 300,000 devices.

Thabo Malebadi, chief executive officer (CEO) of e-Mbizo, told Disrupt Africa the startup is pushing ahead with further expansion plans, with networks set to go live in Alexandra, the oldest township in South Africa, and Soweto, the largest, in the next two months.

He also confirmed the startup is in discussions with various stakeholders in Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, where e-Mbizo intends to replicate its model through a franchised strategy. Unlike the more publicised non-profit Project Isizwe, e-Mbizo is very much a for-profit operation.

Malebadi said the startup has seen the potential of community-driven Wi-Fi networks from a commercial point of view, with an operator, while providing free Wi-Fi, able to offer a large number of additional services and products. The startup has launched a number of value-added services for its user base, including unified communication for small businesses, video and audio on-demand, a virtual payment solution and advertising opportunities for corporates.

e-Mbizo has also built an analytics engine into its data centre, which will see the startup offer innovative big data-related services to premium enterprise customers that have an interest in bottom of the pyramid markets. The startup says the data analytics platform – which launches this month – will allow brands to interact with customers more intuitively.

“With networks becoming faster and faster, new services and innovations come to the fore. Based on this premise, both government and private sector needs to take advantage of this robust capacity that is already at our shores to build on the existing and future network infrastructure, business models that will help to turn the tide on the country’s social and economic challenges,” Malebadi said.

He said various entrepreneurs are running successful internet cafes using e-Mbizo’s Wi-Fi services, demonstrating that rather than competing with local entrepreneurs the startup was providing them with more affordable internet access, enabling better returns.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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