If the demo given by Alcatel-Lucent delegates during the SATNAC 2012 event in George is anything to go by, Telkom’s network rejuvenation project will significantly improve digital subscriber line (DSL) services in South Africa.
Telkom has embarked on a project to replace the ADSL equipment in its telephone exchanges with multi-service access nodes (MSANs).
The intention is to shorten the “local loop length”, which is the distance existing copper wire must cross to connect users to the exchange/node, improving connection quality.
MSANs will also let Telkom offer 40Mbps very-high-bitrate DSL (VDSL), and eventually gigabit per second fibre-to-the-home services, the company has said.
At a press briefing held ahead of SATNAC, Telkom CEO Nombulelo “Pinky” Moholi and head of networks and wholesale Bashier Sallie announced the start of their MSAN pilot project in 5 regions.
The pilot will run from 3 September 2012 to 31 January 2013. Telkom previously said that it intends to offer VDSL commercially by 2015.
VDSL demonstrator configuration
Before discussing the performance achieved over Alcatel’s VDSL demonstrator, it’s important to note the conditions of the test.
Telkom provided fibre backhaul to a room at the Fancourt estate in George for the MSAN, with terminal equipment such as Wi-Fi routers placed in an adjoining room.
The local loop length was therefore almost negligible, removing the issue of copper quality (and theft) from the test.
According to an Altech spokesperson, the routers we used for testing were the type a normal home user would be able to buy from Telkom, and they performed admirably.
Often more than 30 devices were connected to a single router, and while throughput suffered it never felt like the connection offered less performance than having a whole 4Mbps ADSL connection to yourself.
With these circumstances in mind, both synthetic speed tests from Ookla and more “real world” 1080p video streaming tests were used to gauge how well the technology performed.
When the Wi-Fi network quieted down, speed tests to local servers yielded results of between 20Mbps and 50Mbps. International tests sometimes went above 10Mbps.
Upload speeds to both local and international severs were also far higher than Telkom offers on ADSL today.
Video streaming tests did not disappoint, with the VDSL demonstrator delivering 1080p video with only a little bit of buffering at the start.
To ensure that content wasn’t just being pulled from Google’s global cache hosted in South Africa, full HD videos from sites other than YouTube (such as Cnet) were also tested.
Another feature of the MSAN equipment that was demonstrated by Alcatel was being able to set the maximum speed of a connection on the fly.
They demonstrated the ability to switch a 4Mbps connection all the way up to 1Gbps between the user and the MSAN.
According to the spokesperson, this feature could be built into a customer-facing portal to let users set their connection speed. Internet Solutions showed off a similar proof of concept at their own Internetix conference held during August 2012.
From the demonstrations at SATNAC, the features and speeds offered by the MSANs being rolled out by Telkom look promising.
Offered at a reasonable price, VDSL has the potential to make broadband in South Africa globally competitive.
It will be interesting to see where Telkom decides to price the services it offers during the pilot, and to see the performance of nodes being tested in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape.
Jan Vermeulen was a guest of Telkom at SATNAC 2012