The wait for fibre in South Africa’s small towns and cities

Fibre availability has expanded rapidly in South Africa’s major centres in recent years.

This has allowed residents of big cities to gain access to fast and reliable Internet for their homes and businesses.

Unfortunately for South Africans living in smaller towns, fibre is not as widespread.

Instead, they must use less-reliable and often more expensive alternatives such as ADSL and fixed-LTE.

For these citizens, MyBroadband asked South Africa’s leading fibre networks about their plans for connecting the rest of South Africa.

Broadband Infraco

Broadband Infraco said it has fibre spanning about 15,000km in South Africa, with nearly 80% of this covering areas outside of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, and Durban.

Additionally, it has plans in place to increase its current footprint.

Broadband Infraco’s goal is to roll out an additional 1,000km of fibre coverage on their network over the next three years.

These plans, however, are dependent on the SA Connect project as well as other internal business projects.

Funding is the biggest constraint when it comes to the implementation of the SA Connect project, which would pave the way for Broadband Infraco’s proposed network expansion.

Frogfoot

Shane Chorley, head of sales at Frogfoot, told MyBroadband that Frogfoot is in the process of deploying fibre in a number of smaller towns right now, with the intention of expanding across the country.

“We are in the process of deploying in a number of smaller towns and it is our intention to expand that,” said Chorley.

“We launched a national long-distance fibre project in October 2016 that will take high-speed fibre and wireless connectivity to the Eastern belt of the country,” he said.

These towns extend from Witbank through Middelburg, Secunda, Ermelo, Piet Retief, Paulpietersburg, Melmoth, Empangeni, Richards Bay, and Ballito.

Chorley cautions that there are still economic factors to consider, however, meaning that fibre isn’t immediately possible in all of these towns.

For now, he said, fibre is only feasible in Witbank, Middelburg, Empangeni, and Richards Bay.

The rest of the mentioned towns will be covered by “wireless links via a high-capacity backhaul”, said Chorley.

Chorley added that over the next five months, FTTH will also roll out in the following Western Cape towns: Fish Hoek, Capri, Glencairn, Kommetjie, Lakeside, Muizenberg, Noordhoek, San Michel, Simon’s Town, Sun Valley, and Sunnydale.

DFA

DFA said that while its footprint is focused on major metros, it has close to 20% of its network outside of major cities.

It added that the increased demand for high-speed fibre connectivity is contributing to an increased demand outside of major centres.

“The result of this increase in demand is that business cases are justified for the further expansion of network, and we will see increasing fibre network footprint expansion and densification,” DFA told MyBroadband.

“Fibre network deployment is a capital intensive business and requires equally as much, or even more effort on the demand side of the ecosystem in order to ensure that these deployments can create sustainable value for all ecosystem participants,” explained DFA.

DFA added that it does not see fibre as the only access solution outside of major centres, mentioning the likes of public Wi-Fi, mobile Internet, and microwave as other ways to deliver end-user connectivity.

Vumatel

Vumatel told MyBroadband that the majority of its rollout has been focused on Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.

“Our existing network and structures are set up to serve areas within these major centres and we are constantly evaluating the viability of other municipalities as is evident by our expansion into Ekurhuleni,” said Vumatel.

Vumatel said that since their core infrastructure is in the major centres, implementation of networks in outlying towns and cities requires operational capabilities being deployed in these areas.

“In geographical terms these areas are typically remote from existing network infrastructure which has an impact on the economies of scale needed to make a viable business case – however, we are constantly focusing on new and innovative ways to address this.”

SA Digital Villages

SA Digital Villages told MyBroadband that its coverage outside the major centres is in Bloemfontein, Rustenburg, and the North Coast.

However, it is looking to expand its coverage in the coming year.

“We’re currently in negotiations with third parties to improve fibre coverage outside of the major centres. We’re working together to ensure we can provide standardised pricing for the various ISPs so that consumers get access to cost-effective fibre connectivity in these regions,” said Anton Strauss, chief acquisitions officer for SA Digital Villages.

Strauss added that SA Digital Villages plans on executing these plans within the next two years.

“We’re already seeing saturation in the major metros – and overbuild happening – we believe that the major players are already looking to expand their network to include outlying areas,” said Strauss.

He added that the two main challenges when implementing fibre outside of major centres are third-party backhaul and keeping pricing standard – no matter where consumers are located.

Local municipalities also have different requirements and processes, making getting approval another big challenge.

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The wait for fibre in South Africa’s small towns and cities