With South Africa’s international bandwidth well supplied by the likes of subsea cables such as Seacom, SAT3/SAFE, EASSy, and with more cables set to come online, a similarly vibrant environment in terrestrial backhaul is needed to further drive down broadband prices.
It’s no secret that local bandwidth costs Internet Service Providers (ISPs) more than it does to carry traffic over international links, which is one of the reasons MWEB decided to stop paying for local transit in October 2010.
As a result of MWEB’s hard-line stance, the company now has peering agreements in place with all the major ISPs in South Africa.
However, open peering does not remove the need to buy capacity from providers such as Telkom/SAIX and state-owned Broadband Infraco to carry traffic from one part of the country to another. This bandwidth remains expensive.
This raises the question: what is holding back carriers from competing against the likes of Telkom and Broadband Infraco?
A comparison of the fibre networks operated by some of the players in the national backhaul space is revealing.
Looking at Neotel and Infraco’s fibre network maps side-by-side, much overlap is evident. This is because the maintenance and operation of the old Eskom and Transnet fibre assets acquired by Broadband Infraco was outsourced to Neotel.
The agreement between Infraco and Neotel fell away on 19 October 2009 and Neotel now buys much of their national capacity.
According to a June 2010 report, Neotel’s current infrastructure includes a 10,000km national optical fibre network and more than 4,000km of metropolitan fibre in Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. Neotel previously said it is busy rolling out a 5,000km national fibre network in partnership with Vodacom and MTN.
Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) is another player in the national terrestrial fibre network space, with links from Durban to Gauteng via Mtunzini and a ring between Cape Town and Yzerfontein.
Though companies such as Broadband Infraco, DFA, and other carriers like Neotel may have a significant fibre footprint, they are dwarfed when compared to Telkom’s.
Considering just the amount of fibre the different players have in the ground, Telkom looks very impressive with its 140,000km of cable. However, it’s even more impressive when you see it on a map.
This image doesn’t just show that Telkom operates a significant terrestrial fibre network, but also that competing with Telkom on this level will be no trivial task for SA’s budding national fibre players.