Rollouts delayed – How South Africa’s fibre networks are impacted by the lockdown

Fibre network operators in South Africa have seen their operations limited by the coronavirus lockdown.

While the government has classified telecommunications infrastructure as an essential service, certain limitations under the restrictions have hampered the rollout of new projects.

MyBroadband spoke to two players about how they were handling operations under lockdown.


MetroFibre said many of its operations have been unaffected by the lockdown, including maintenance, access builds, and customer connectivity.

“All these services continue unencumbered, obviously with all the processes around health and safety in place,” the company said.

“Our call centre and customer help desk continue operations as normal from home. Our workflow allows for all necessary information to be provided for execution of services,” MetroFibre noted.

However, under current lockdown regulations, civil builds cannot continue. This means additional fibre rollouts have been halted.

The company said at this stage it is not necessary to implement cost-cutting measures such as salary cuts or retrenchments, despite operational constraints.

“All our employees continue to receive their full remuneration and employee benefits, and our priority is to safeguard job security for all our employees during this uncertain time,” the operator said.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and take our directives from the government as and when these become available,” it said.

It noted that once operations are allowed to continue as normal, it will have to catch up on backlogs in construction and civil work.

This may require the participation of multiple parties to ensure the effects of the delays are minimised.

“In some instances, there are macro-factors at play, for example obtaining wayleaves from the municipalities,” it explained.

“It is our hope that once the lockdown restrictions are lifted or eased that all role players will be working collaboratively to catch up and fast-track the delivery of all services that have been impacted.”

MetroFibre said one crucial lesson that has emerged from this crisis is the importance of Internet connectivity.

“It is our sincere hope that we will see renewed vigour and commitment in getting fibre rollouts happening quickly and efficiently across the whole of South Africa,” MetroFibre stated.


Link Africa

Link Africa said it has been able to carry out the limited installation of new services and ensured its network has operated at the pre-COVID-19 levels of availability and performance, whilst putting the health and safety of its employees and customers first.

It said many local mobile network operators use Link Africa’s fibre-to-the-tower infrastructure to connect a large number of their towers. This infrastructure has withstood unprecedented data traffic volumes over the last few weeks, it added.

Delays in the installation of new service orders as a result of either private property being locked down or the necessary municipal officials not being available have been experienced, however.

In terms of its consumer fibre network, Link Africa said it was performing well.

“Link Africa’s network has been resilient and withstood the massive increase in data volumes being transmitted over it as a result of the [line speed upgrade] initiative and the significant increase in the number of people using Link Africa’s infrastructure to conduct their daily business affairs,” the operator said.

The company said it has paid all its bills and staff in full, but noted that it has asked certain employees dedicated to new service installations to take paid leave and work the time back over weekends when the lockdown is lifted.

This will help with attempts to clear the backlog of new service orders that has started to develop, Link Africa said.

Overall, Link Africa said it envisages a 10-20% negative impact on its revenue targets for the financial year due to the lockdown.

It warned any further extension could have a profound impact on the economy and Link Africa would be susceptible to this general downturn.

Link Africa

MyBroadband contacted Vumatel, Openserve, and DFA for comment on the matter. Vumatel declined to comment, while Openserve and DFA did not provide feedback.

Now read: How much Internet traffic in South Africa has increased due to the coronavirus

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Rollouts delayed – How South Africa’s fibre networks are impacted by the lockdown