How COVID-19 saved ADSL in South Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic and South Africa’s national lockdown implemented to curb the spread of the virus has fundamentally changed Telkom’s ADSL strategy.

This is according to Telkom Consumer CEO Serame Taukobong, who said that the launch of Openserve’s naked ADSL product has allowed Telkom to change its plan for its ageing copper infrastructure.

“The launch of Pure Connect allowed us to use the COVID-19 crisis that evolved to pivot,” Taukobong told MyBroadband in an interview.

“It doesn’t mean that we’ve taken our eyes off fibre as well as LTE.”

Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko assigned an expiration date to the company’s copper infrastructure in May 2019, when he said that Telkom would shut down its copper network in the next five years.

“We are hoping that in the next five years we would have exited copper entirely,” Maseko said.

“There will come a time when we switch off the copper technology because what you also don’t want to do is to maintain two or three different networks at the same time as that drives cost.”

Telkom began this migration aggressively, proactively contacting customers and telling them that they must upgrade to newer infrastructure if it was available.

Instead of repairing or replacing copper infrastructure, Telkom’s strategy involved switching over its ADSL customers to fibre where it is available and offering fixed-LTE as an alternative where it is not.

COVID-19 upset

The COVID-19 pandemic and changing operating environment have now caused Telkom to continue with ADSL support for the foreseeable future, however.

“Strategies are always done in the context of their environments,” he said. “I think what has happened with COVID-19 is that we asked whether that was the right thing to actually do,” Taukobong said.

“The shape of the world as we know it changed fundamentally from 12 months ago. We had to be able to pivot to meet the demands of the environment.”

He said that going forward, where ADSL is operationally not viable for the company, due to copper theft, breakages, or other factors, the company will focus more on LTE or fibre.

Where Telkom has “good copper”, however, it will offer this to customers at lower rates than ever before to ensure they are connected.

“The one thing we cannot dispute about the old copper infrastructure is just the expanse of the network,” he said.

“There are areas where none of the mobile operators even have a tower, but you will find copper.”

“Not all of it is in tip-top condition, but where we have got good copper and there is no other alternative – that is where we are meeting the demand,” Taukobong added.

“If the infrastructure is still there and you can use it – why not?”

Now read: ADSL is not dead – Telkom’s plans for copper

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How COVID-19 saved ADSL in South Africa