When a fibre rollout goes wrong

The day that a fibre network operator lets you know that fibre is coming to your area is a momentous one, and the months it takes for the roll-out to happen are simultaneously exciting and agonising.

That excitement turned to frustration and disappointment for the residents of The Vineyards and Diaz Village in Strand.

“We were very happy when we were approached by Blitz Fibre,” the treasurer of The Vineyards told MyBroadband.

“In exchange for six years of exclusive access rights, [Blitz Fibre] offered to lay fibre throughout the complex and provide us with access via several ISPs.”

Everything looked promising, The Vineyards said, until the time came to actually do the trenching and lay the fibre.

After it became clear that the contractor had gone completely off-plan with the trenching, the Vineyards discovered that it was a sub-contractor to a sub-contractor.

The Vineyards told MyBroadband that it fought for six months with Blitz Fibre to fix the civil works of their fibre roll-out, only for the whole thing to grind to a complete halt at the final hurdle.

Even though fibre had been laid throughout the complex and Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) had backhaul fibre in the ground just across the road from The Vineyards, the final link connecting the two networks could not be completed.

The Vineyards soon learned that another complex nearby, Diaz Village, had run into exactly the same problems with Blitz Fibre. After waiting three months for backhaul linkage and without any further word from Blitz Fibre, The Vineyards contacted MyBroadband with its story.

City of Cape Town blocked the backhaul linkage – Blitz Fibre

When contacted for comment about the situation at The Vineyards and Diaz Village, Hein van Vuuren from Blitz Fibre explained that they used a new contractor for the builds and encountered some issues along the way.

“Some of [the issues] were specification related, as they were not used to our type of builds. Most, if not all, of these issues have been addressed by now,” Van Vuuren said.

“To make matters worse, my contact at the contractor company [Buntigraph] had a stroke and there was a break in communication for a while and a delay to get final as-builds and sign-off docs. The complexes will not sign these docs until all the snags are sorted out and they are completely happy.”

According to Van Vuuren, Blitz Fibre started the builds after getting confirmation from DFA that they can provide them with a backhaul connection.

“When we started pushing for the interconnect, they said that the municipality would not allow them to do a road drill. This meant that they needed to trench an additional 350m and therefore the site was not feasible anymore.”

Van Vuuren disputed the complexes’ claims that Blitz Fibre stopped communicating with them, stating that there were times when he didn’t have new information and therefore didn’t respond immediately.

When asked if the rollouts would be completed, Van Vuuren assured that he met with “a couple of different role players” to get a backhaul connection.

“So, yes, the rollouts will be completed and the sites connected once we are able to get the backhaul sorted.”

The Vineyards and Diaz Village told MyBroadband that they were dissatisfied with the way Van Vuuren addressed the lack of communication from their side, as well as his non-committal answer regarding the completion of their fibre builds.

Wild goose chase

MyBroadband contacted the City of Cape Town and DFA regarding Van Vuuren’s statement that the backhaul linkage was blocked because the municipality refused to approve a road drill.

The City of Cape Town did not respond by the time of publication.

A preliminary investigation from DFA suggested that the fibre for The Vineyards and Diaz Village were SA Digital Villages (SADV) builds, and not DFA’s.

MyBroadband then contacted SADV, which helped explain that confusion has been created because there are two different complexes called “The Vineyards”.

The Vineyards whose backhaul link we were investigating was not a SADV customer and is located in a completely different location.

“Diaz Village was on the radar at some point, but the order placed with DFA for backhaul was cancelled by the Body Corporate, hence revoking permission for SADV/DFA to continue with the build to take fibre to the complex,” SADV stated.

MyBroadband went back to DFA with the new information, and the company contacted Blitz Africa directly to try and get to the bottom of the matter. DFA provided the following feedback:

  1. The project had not actually commenced and was still with DFA’s sales department, which is why DFA could not pick up Blitz Fibre as a client.
  2. The opportunity was recorded under the name Somerset West – Orion Close, which is why DFA could not pick it up until it got further details from Blitz Fibre.
  3. As standard industry practice, every opportunity is subjected to desktop feasibility study as the first feasibility check.
  4. A second feasibility check is carried out when the opportunity is assigned to the relevant region for service delivery and is then handed over to them to commence the site and optical feasibility. This is to determine the low-level architecture wayleaves, capacity, road crossings and other elements. Some of these, such as wayleaves, are beyond DFA’s control.
  5. If a road-crossing is rejected and DFA has to take alternate routes, the distance will increase and DFA can reject the opportunity. Provision for this is made in the terms and conditions of all quotes supplied.
  6. This is because no infrastructure provider invests in infrastructure without considering return on investment, and each product has a feasibility allowance. This particular opportunity exceeded the allowance.

“[We] are not entirely sure what the agreement or understanding was between Blitz Fibre and their customer but these kinds of issues can arise and they should address them with the customer,” DFA stated.

Octotel to the rescue

Frogfoot announced in September 2019 that it acquired the existing network and customer base of Blitz Fibre.

When Diaz Village learned of the acquisition, they contacted Frogfoot and were informed that neither The Vineyards nor Diaz Village was included in the portfolio of assets purchased by Frogfoot.

However, Frogfoot informed the two complexes that they will take up the matter and review the feasibility of the projects.

This created some confusion as Blitz Fibre had previously told The Vineyards and Diaz Village that Frogfoot had purchased their networks, while Frogfoot said they had not.

Blitz Fibre had later indicated to MyBroadband that it was still working on the project to secure backhaul for the FTTH networks in the two complexes.

Following our enquiries, the project appeared to be stuck in limbo, with The Vineyards and Diaz Village exchanging many messages with Frogfoot between October 2019 and January 2020.

According to The Vineyards, Frogfoot eventually said it wanted to inspect and possibly redo the entire installation performed by Blitz Fibre, since the workmanship of their subcontractor had proven to be far below industry standards.

“After waiting patiently for awhile we, together with our neighbouring complex, gave both Frogfoot and Blitz notice to either partner with Octotel — which has infrastructure in our road — or to forget about it,” The Vineyards told MyBroadband.

They gave Frogfoot two weeks to respond. When they didn’t hear anything back, they contacted Octotel.

The Vineyards said that Octotel had to do an entirely new installation. Despite that, from planning to going live took only two months.

“Our fibre went live in April 2020, just as the lockdown started… a year and eight months after we first signed with Blitz.”

Now read: The fastest network connection in South Africa that you can’t get

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When a fibre rollout goes wrong