Credit: Ashley Jurius via Unsplash

UofG partners in new project to boost broadband access in South Africa

By Divya Venkattu

The “Fibre before the Fibre” project aims to bridge the educational inequalities caused by lack of access to the internet highlighted by the pandemic.

A new collaborative initiative seeks to bridge the digital divide in access to online educational resources exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. The “Fibre before the Fibre Project” is a project that aims to provide wireless broadband internet to schoolchildren in South Africa who live in areas that currently lack digital infrastructure.

The project is funded by The Royal Academy of Engineering and it will have a phased roll-out in South Africa within the next six months. It is conducted by professors Dr Mitchell Cox and Professor Andrew Forbes, from the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa), Professor Martin Lavery from the University of Glasgow, and Professor Andrew Ellis from Aston University.

A key aspect of the project is its emphasis on using sustainable technology: the wireless broadband infrastructure will be solar powered. The researchers will also be examining the impact of the project on schoolchildren who are expected to benefit from it.  

Professor Lavery of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering highlighted the pertinent role of fibre optics technology in the digital revolution, but added that the sheer cost of installing fibre optics cable has made it inaccessible for much of the underprivileged population in South Africa. He remarks that this project “aims to build upon new advances in photonics to take the expensive cable infrastructure out of the equation altogether and create more affordable, high-speed broadband links across free space”.

Professor Lavery continued: “We hope that Fibre before Fibre will provide real and lasting benefits to the children in our partner school, and that it will help kickstart similar projects in many other places around the world where broadband access is limited.” 

Professor Ellis commented: “In parts of South Africa there is a huge peri-urban (where there is a mix of rural and urban areas) digital divide where children don’t even have the basics. We will be looking at the 12 months after the installation of the products to the schools and being able to see what benefits it will have.”


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