What more can be done to deliver fibre connectivity across South Africa?


It seems like we hear news of fibre developments every other week, as the likes of MTN, Vodacom, Vumatel and Telkom announce suburbs and projects.

There’s no denying that many projects take place in affluent suburbs, but even living in a well-off suburb isn’t a guarantee of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity.

What can be done to ensure that fibre connectivity reaches more areas though? We interviewed Dominic Cull, regulatory advisor for the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), and asked for his thoughts on the matter.

This is why fibre isn’t available in more suburbs

First of all, Cull outlined a host of reasons for fibre connectivity not being available in more parts of the country.

Reasons included: commercial viability of deploying in some areas as opposed to wealthier areas, availability of backhaul services, questions around demand and affordability, delays due to municipal approvals, physical constraints, disputes between providers and public/private land owners and topographical/security considerations.

So what specific steps can ISPs and network providers take?

“ISPs can and do play a role in galvanising retail demand for the deployment of fibre networks in their area by network providers. This presupposes that these networks are available to ISPs for the provision of services to potential subscribers in that area,” Cull explained.

“Steps taken have included direct engagement with community representative associations, neighbourhood watches and residents to create a register of demand for fibre-based services in an area. This presents a commercial case for a fibre network provider to deploy a network in that area.”

The government’s role

On areas where the government can improve, Cull said that the approvals process needs streamlining.

“There is a longstanding need to standardise municipal approvals processes and to ensure that there is capacity within municipalities to facilitate and co-ordinate the deployment of fibre networks, balanced against the discharge of their broader constitutional service delivery mandate,” the ISPA representative explained.

“There is unlikely to be any significant change in this position and the private sector — which is doing a good job of expanding access to fibre services notwithstanding the abovementioned obstacles — should itself make greater efforts towards sharing, coordination and standardised open access implementations.”

Speaking of “open-access”, Cull also expanded on Telkom’s decision to team up with Vumatel.

“We believe it is crucial and Telkom entering into an agreement with Vumatel to provide Telkom ISP services to customers over Vumatel’s fibre network is to be welcomed. It reflects the manner in which open-access providers like Vumatel welcome ISPs like Telkom with a strong brand which can help to drive demand for fibre connections,” Cull said.

He said that open-access infrastructure results in competition between ISPs, which in turn delivers lower prices, increases innovation and offers more choices.

“In some areas — particularly business parks — it may make sense for there to be multiple fibre network providers, creating additional competition and choice at both the network and the service levels.”

Read more: Get free WiFi in South Africa by viewing ads first

Although Cull couldn’t comment on Telkom’s target of one million fibre-capable homes by 2018, he welcomed their recent separation between retail and wholesale divisions.

“ISPA welcomes the separation effected between the wholesale and retail divisions of Telkom and its members have indicated that this is working well in practice,” he explained.

“Certainly the emergence of more agile fibre providers who are effectively breaking Telkom’s monopoly on the last mile or local loop in many high-revenue areas has impressed upon the Telkom the need for it to compete in deploying fibre networks while ensuring that its copper assets remain relevant in an environment where ADSL is increasingly being replaced by fibre connections.”

Featured image: rotorhead via Free Images.



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