The South African telecom BitCo recently announced a partnership with Starbucks to roll out unrestricted, 1 Gbps fiber internet to every Starbucks store in the country of South Africa. The arrival of free and uncapped internet access at speeds of 1 Gbps are a global first for Starbucks — and would turn heads even in many of the more “developed” nations of the world.
Some of the first stores to receive BitCo’s free high-speed WiFi will be the one at Johannesburg’s Melrose Arch and another at The Marc. But over the next few years, the rest of the franchise’s South Africa locations will receive the upgrade, as well.
Part of the reason Starbucks South Africa pushed for this partnership, according to managing executive Clive Liversage, was because modern consumers expect a “seamless” “third place” experience. A so-called “third space” is anything that’s not quite home and not quite a workplace. According to Starbucks, many of their customers arrive at their locations ready to not only drink coffee and read the paper, but also to get some work done.
“Part and parcel of providing our customers with a memorable third place experience is equipping them with all they need for a seamless visit,” said Liversage. “Fast, reliable internet access is therefore hugely necessary for an environment like ours, where many of our customers come to work remotely.”
And it’s not hard to see that commitment in practice: Starbucks opened its twelfth South African store in mid-summer of 2018 and has heretofore provided internet access with speeds up to 100 Mbps. It hopes to open 50 additional stores over the coming years. A jump to 1 Gbps speeds in so many communities represents a huge leap forward for both Starbucks and BitCo — and a new benchmark for internet speeds in general, as the world eyes 5G and even more ubiquitous public WiFi access.
South Africa and Cape Town Become Tech Hubs
In hindsight, South Africa was always an obvious choice for the rollout of a new tier of internet speeds across a globally recognized foodservice company like Starbucks. For some time now, South Africa’s Cape Town has won accolades for its sky-high promise as a new haven for technological innovation. In fact, some voices have named Cape Town the “technology capital” for the entire continent of Africa.
Thanks to research and reporting from Endeavor Insights and technology incubators like the Cape Innovation & Technology Initiative, a clear mission is forming, along with a set of straightforward objectives for completing it. Cape Town is already a booming location for technology innovation and investment, but action is needed to make sure it stays there.
According to Endeavor Insights, there are already 40,000 to 50,000 individuals employed in the greater Cape Town-Stellenbosch region. It’s a healthier stable of talent compared with Nairobi and Lagos, but still has enough room for improvement.
Endeavor Insights, CITI and local governments in the Cape Town region want to continue to capitalize on Cape Town’s falling rates of unemployment and rising rates of economic participation by continuing their talent-development initiatives, courting additional domestic and foreign investment and driving up interest in technology-related careers.
The arrival of top-tier internet speeds in public spaces in South Africa and its technology capitals is auspicious for the same reason it’s significant anyplace else — higher internet speeds serve as an additional magnet for talent and business investment alike. Just as investing in a country’s physical infrastructure makes it a more likely target for domestic and foreign business investment and relocation, investments in internet infrastructure fuel progress on the digital frontier.
Moreover, high-speed internet is more and more frequently seen as a necessity for modern life. With global brands like Starbucks and regional corporations like BitCo investing in the pro-social goal of omnipresent, high-speed internet, South Africa stands a chance of bolstering its quality of life and courting even more talent from the technology scene.
It’s the beginning of a cycle — higher internet speeds beget additional innovations and investments, which leads to further progress in internet technology and many other fields.
Major Brands Making Inroads in South Africa
It was inevitable that, as interest in South Africa and Cape Town as destinations for technology companies grew, so too would opportunities for major, globally focused companies like Starbucks to seek their way in by partnering with local entities. In this case, it was BitCo rolling out high-speed internet to public cafes and providing viable working environments for some of the tens of thousands of employees who call the region home.
Who knows what the future will hold for the region as interest continues to rise? A list of some of the most innovative companies in South Africa include disruptors in education, e-commerce, interactive media and solar energy. Not all of these are household names to non-South Africans the way Starbucks is, but all of them represent real, homegrown companies working together to make South Africa a world-class destination for technological breakthroughs, high employment and an excellent overall quality of life.