Beyond South Africa: Exploring the International Challenges of Free Wi-Fi Networks


The sustainability challenges faced by free Wi-Fi networks are not unique to South Africa. Projects in other African countries, such as BRCK in Kenya, have also encountered obstacles after initial funding was withdrawn. This follow-up article examines these international cases, drawing comparisons to South Africa's VAST and Tshwane Free Wi-Fi projects, and exploring the shared challenges that hinder the success of free Wi-Fi initiatives.

Section 1: The Collapse of BRCK in Kenya

BRCK, a Kenyan-based project, aimed to bring affordable internet access to underserved communities across Africa. However, the initiative faced setbacks when funding from its initial investors was withdrawn. Similar to the VAST and Tshwane Free Wi-Fi projects, BRCK's failure can be attributed to the lack of a sustainable commercial model, which made it difficult to secure long-term financial support.

Section 2: Common Challenges in Free Wi-Fi Initiatives

The VAST, Tshwane, and BRCK projects highlight several shared challenges faced by free Wi-Fi initiatives worldwide:

Insufficient funding: Securing long-term funding remains a significant obstacle for many free Wi-Fi projects. Without continuous financial support, it is challenging to maintain and expand networks.

Unsustainable commercial models: The absence of a sustainable commercial model hampers the ability of free Wi-Fi networks to generate consistent revenue, making it difficult to attract and retain investors.

Regulatory hurdles: Governments often impose regulatory restrictions on Wi-Fi initiatives, creating additional obstacles for projects aiming to bridge the digital divide.

Infrastructure limitations: Inadequate infrastructure, such as unreliable power supplies and underdeveloped telecommunication networks, can hamper the implementation and growth of free Wi-Fi initiatives.

Section 3: Lessons Learned from Failed Projects

The VAST, Tshwane, and BRCK cases offer valuable insights for future free Wi-Fi initiatives:

The importance of sustainable commercial models: A viable commercial model is essential to secure long-term funding and ensure that projects can continue providing free internet access to underserved communities.

Collaboration with stakeholders: Engaging with local communities, governments, and private companies is crucial in designing and implementing effective free Wi-Fi initiatives.

Flexibility and adaptation: Free Wi-Fi projects should be adaptable to changing circumstances, such as fluctuating funding and evolving market conditions.


While the failure of free Wi-Fi initiatives like VAST, Tshwane, and BRCK is disheartening, it is essential to learn from these experiences and develop more sustainable approaches. By addressing the challenges faced by these projects, future initiatives can better serve their communities and contribute to bridging the digital divide, promoting socio-economic inclusivity across Africa and beyond.

June 14, 2023, 11:37 a.m.