The expansion of fibre networks in South Africa is great – as it brings fast broadband speeds to users at increasingly-affordable prices.
Another new experience for local fixed-line users is that there is now a choice when it comes to infrastructure providers.
Previously, when you had a DSL line, it was always a Telkom-based product.
This meant if you had a 10Mbps uncapped package from Afrihost, Axxess, Vox, or any ISP (Internet service provider), comparing services was straightforward – as the underlying infrastructure was always the same.
With fibre, Telkom’s wholesale division – now Openserve – is but one of many fibre infrastructure players laying cable.
This means more options for estates and neighbourhoods installing fibre, but can create confusion among end users.
Waiting for fibre
One of the common issues ISPs deal with is the confusion between the fibre network operator (FNO) and the ISP – as the ISP is the consumer-facing half for most fibre users.
“There are two, distinct, entities involved, each with their own network,” Afrihost’s David Lindeque told MyBroadband.
“The FNO and ISP meet in data centres in order to cross connect our networks. In terms of providing a great experience to the client, both entities need to be performing optimally,” said Lindeque.
Afrihost and other ISPs provide connectivity on various fibre networks – such as Vumatel and Openserve – and when consumers see fibre being trenched in their neighbourhood, they contact their ISP to order it.
“As the ISP, we have to wait for the FNO to have completed their trenching and for them to have backhaul links in place to the data centre. The time between trenching and ready-for-order is dependant on the FNO, and this timeline varies per company,” said Lindeque.
Once the fibre network is ready, ISPs receive an update and change the respective areas on their coverage maps to “live”.
When a client orders a fibre line from their ISP, the time it takes to install it depends on the FNO – and can take up to several weeks.
“The ISPs constantly communicate with the FNOs on install scheduling – however, at the end of the day, the time taken from order placed is in the hands of the FNO,” said Lindeque.
It’s a similar scenario when it comes to fibre cable breaks and the subsequent repairs.
Due to multiple ISPs offering multiple packages across multiple networks, comparing prices and speeds also becomes problematic for users.
The FNO and ISP work together to offer an end user a service, such as a 100/50Mbps home uncapped package.
Looking at an ISP’s 100/50Mbps home uncapped package on Openserve, for example, and then comparing the price of the same ISP package on Vumatel can create confusion when assessing value.
“Each FNO will stipulate specific prices for each line speed per link. These line fees that the ISP faces per link on a network differ between FNOs,” said Lindeque.
“As the link speed increases, the fee per month for that line to the ISP increases,” it added.
ISPs must therefore take the cost of providing connectivity on a particular fibre network into account when pricing their products.
“Once costs are known, a product is priced. This will include a gross profit margin. This margin needs to be adequate to cover operating expenses of the business.”
Lindeque said the fee ISPs pay per link to the fibre network is the biggest cost in providing fibre services to clients.
“This is why, depending on the FNO and their specific fees per line speed, the price of packages across networks the ISP operates on will differ significantly,” said Lindeque.
“Due to this, one cannot compare the price of a 100Mbps line on Network A to the same speed line on Network B within the same ISP.”
So, you know you will order fibre through an ISP, have to wait for the fibre network operator to install it, and that when it is live you must be careful to compare pricing to packages on other networks.
But now your fibre line goes down, or is very slow – whose responsibility is it to fix it and who do you call?
“It is definitely a case-by-case issue,” said Lindeque.
“At times, the FNO may be experiencing an issue and at times it may be the ISP. When a client is experiencing an issue, it is the responsibility of the ISP to investigate thoroughly and, regardless of whether the issue is on the FNO side or ISP side, do everything they can to restore the client’s link back to optimal status,” it said.
“Quality client support is of paramount importance to us and we invest heavily in continuously improving the service we provide to our clients.”
Lindeque said it is a good idea for consumers to research an ISP before signing up with them, as fibre connectivity is extremely bandwidth heavy.
“It is important for the consumer to choose an ISP that invests heavily in their own network infrastructure and one that can handle the traffic of all clients on fibre links, particularly at peak periods,” said Lindeque.
Another factor which can affect a client’s fibre experience is the hardware they use, said Lindeque.
“Wi-Fi routers and hardware in the home have a significant impact on your experience.”
Many users believe that “Wi-Fi is Wi-Fi”, but a high-quality router has a significant impact on the Internet experience in the home, said the ISP.
“We offer quality routers with client orders, but still encourage clients with large properties to consider investing in mesh networks such as Google WiFi or ASUS Lyra.”