When MTN announced that it would commercially launch 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services, it was met with breathless reports of how the future had finally arrived in South Africa.
Finally, we’re getting fibre broadband connections to our homes, and MTN is leading the charge.
In its press release, MTN even asserted that the commercial delivery of FTTH capable of 100Mbps is a first in Africa.
Except it isn’t.
It isn’t even a first for South Africa.
Other fibre trials
In fact, when you look at MTN’s announcement all it said was that it is conducting a trial at one gated community (Monaghan farm) and plans to launch commercially in under two months.
However, MTN is not nearly the first network operator to be testing residential fibre services, even 100Mbps ones, in South Africa.
It is understood that its competitor in the cellular arena, Vodacom, also has a live fibre trial in Illovo, with plans to commercially launch 100Mbps fibre-to-the-building/business (FTTB) services in the second half of 2014. Vodacom FTTH products are to follow on 2015.
Telkom has also said that it is conducting fibre trials in two business parks, three gated communities, and a ‘leafy suburb’. This includes a trial of 100Mbps fibre services.
According to previous feedback from Telkom, it has FTTH trials running in Rosebank, Bryanston, the Waterkloof area in Pretoria, La Pama in Durban, Plantations in Durban, and Somerset in Gauteng.
Telkom has announced plans to launch commercial FTTH services by the end of 2014.
I see your 100Mbps trial and raise you…
Neotel, meanwhile, has been offering commercial fibre services to businesses for years and, along with iBurst and Sainet, is also involved with the fibre trial in the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg – which now claims to offer speeds of up to 300Mbps in some areas.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa has held up the Maboneng trial as an example of “what we all want”.
Commercial fibre services in SA
While South Africa’s telecommunications giants are busy conducting residential fibre trials around the country, there are already a few companies that commercially offer such services.
Among them is MultiChoice subsidiary, SmartVillage which operates in residential estates around South Africa.
Another player is Atec, which was the company initially behind the Maboneng Precinct trial.
Responding to MyBroadband’s questions on the company, Atec CEO Louis Parker said that the company’s first commercial FTTH site was launched in 2006.
Atec now has 3 sites in KwaZulu-Natal, 1 in Cape Town, and 8 in Gauteng, Parker said.
100Mbps packages are available at three of these sites, two of which are residential estates in Houghton and Southdowns.
In 2012, Atec also launched its FibreSuburb initiative after conducting a successful trial in the affluent Clifton area where residents were unable to receive DStv because the signal was blocked by the mountains.
Just as MTN said it’s deployment of FTTH services is dependent on demand and invited those interested to e-mail them, so too did Atec invite communities to contact them to roll out fibre to their suburbs in 2012.
MTN’s claim that its commercial FTTH launch would be a first in Africa is, at best, a curious one.
It’s also not a claim that is of any consequence to consumers.
Who cares who’s first, when what matters is how broadly and cheaply available the services are?
Do you offer good quality of service at an affordable, competitive price? That, in the end, is what wins (and keeps) South African customers.