South Africa’s fibre explosion

Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity in South Africa increased substantially in 2022.

The past year, fibre network operators (FNOs) have continued a price war sparked by higher bandwidth requirements among households during the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the time of writing, there were around 1.45 million FTTH customers across seven major fibre networks in South Africa.

The largest among these — Vumatel, Openserve, and MetroFibre — each passed over 100,000 new homes in 2022.

The table below shows the number of homes passed with FTTH connectivity and the number of homes connected with the biggest FNOs in the country, according to the latest available data.

Biggest FTTH networks in South Africa
Fibre network operator Homes passed
Households that have access to particular network
Homes connected
Households that use network for connectivity
Herotel 345,000 Unknown
Frogfoot 350,000 135,000
MetroFibre 450,000 116,000
Octotel 300,000 100,000
Openserve 1,000,000 443,469
Vumatel 1,600,000 450,000
Others (Vodacom, Evotel, Zoom Fibre) 396,828 203,302
Total 4,241,828 (includes overlapping homes / overbuilds) 1,447,771 (excludes Herotel)

MyBroadband asked the country’s biggest operators about their most significant milestones and challenges in 2022.


Herotel

Herotel said it had 150,000 active customers across its fibre and wireless networks at the time of its feedback, representing net-customer growth of 50% in the last two years.

Unlike the other operators, its network is closed-access, meaning it serves all these customers as an Internet service provider (ISP).

“Herotel completed significant new builds in every province and now has a significant presence in most of the major secondary towns across South Africa,” the operator told MyBroadband.

The operator’s primary challenge in 2022 was load-shedding, but it invested significantly in backup power across its network to ensure customers had connectivity during outages.


Frogfoot

Frogfoot chief business development officer, Shane Chorley, said the operator focused on building a more future-proof business and stable network in 2022 after exponential expansions in previous years.

“This includes strengthening the company’s internal structures and making key new hires, with the aim of being able to better serve the company’s ISP customers, as well as deploying a dark national long-distance network,” said Chorley.

He said the operator had also made a significant investment into increasing the uptime availability of nodes on Frogfoot’s network and that of its partners, specifically went it came to backup batteries for load-shedding.

“The network is now capable of withstanding stage 6 load-shedding,” Chorley stated, adding that the FNO would continue to invest in backup power as there appeared to be no end in sight for load-shedding.

“There is also the growing need to monitor for issues such as correct voltages when the power comes back after a bout of load-shedding, as it causes damage to electrical or electronic equipment.”

Chorley said another challenge for Frogfoot was the level of service provided by some ISPs that resold its products, which led to the FNO hiring its own customer support staff.

“We have employed customer service staff that engage directly with users on the Frogfoot network, attending to complaints on forums such as social media, and then working with the relevant ISPs to address their concerns,” Chorley said.

The chip crunch also saw Frogfoot experiencing delays in optical network terminal (ONT) installations, despite stockpiling to mitigate against the shortage.

Fortunately, Frogfoot planned its network upgrade well in advance, so it did not have any issues with crucial backbone equipment stock, which could have a lead time as long as 12-18 months.

“While the chip shortage is still ongoing, it should improve before too long, before we hit a cycle of oversupply,” Chorley said.


MetroFibre

MetroFibre said it was now the third-largest FNO in the country in terms of homes passed, which stood at over 450,000 at the time of writing.

The operator told MyBroadband that it passed more than 140,000 in 2022 alone.

New areas covered as part of the 2022 rollout included locations in Durban and the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, as well as Thembisa, Johannesburg South, Kwa Thema, Port Elizabeth, St. Francis, Jeffreys Bay, Beaufort West, Queenstown, Bloemhof, Christiana, Warrenton, Riverside View, Pretoria, and Centurion.

It also began expanding into Cape Town, where it plans to complete its rollout in 2023.

MetroFibre said its biggest challenge in the year had been violent construction disruptions and intimidation of staff by “construction mafia” groups demanding to be involved in fibre projects.

In addition, the flooding in KwaZulu-Natal in April 2022 was a significant challenge for rollouts in that area.

Load-shedding has also made it more difficult to keep up with service disruptions, while the company’s working costs have increased due to measures put in place to counter these disruptions.

“We have prepared our network to handle up to stage 6 load-shedding, and we have plans in place should we reach higher levels in the new year,” MetroFibre said.


Openserve

Telkom’s wholesale fixed-line division said it passed over a million homes in 2022, 46.2% of which were connected to its network at the time of writing.

The operator said its biggest challenges were the sluggish economy, increasing electricity and fuel prices, rising interest rates and high unemployment, placing consumers and businesses under pressure.


Octotel

Octotel CEO Trevor van Zyl said the Western Cape-based operator expanded its network to 50,000 new homes during the year, taking its total count to 300,000.

It also connected 22,000 new customers to its network, hitting the 100,000 mark for total connections.

Van Zyl said the entire Octotel network was now connected to the operator’s own backhaul, offering several benefits.

“The greatest is our ability to offer our ISPs and end-customers unmatched network performance, uptime, value-for-money products and scalability,” Van Zyl explained.

He said Octotel experienced several new challenges in 2022, including increased health and safety risks working in lower LSM areas due to crime, gangs, and construction mafias.

In addition to being more dangerous for staff, he said these challenges make it more difficult to roll fibre out at the required pace.

“It has also resulted in additional costs to homes passed as a result of additional security measures being deployed in certain areas,” Val Zyl said.

Van Zyl said fewer areas met their feasibility criteria due to LSM levels, affordability, and social challenges.

Furthermore, it encountered increased competition due to “overbuilding” FNOs.

Lastly, the operator’s customer churn rate increased due to enabling connectivity in lower LSM areas, where customers are more likely to fall on tough times and disconnect due to affordability.


Vumatel

The country’s biggest fibre network operator by homes passed did not provide feedback to our query on its major milestones in 2022.

It has reached at least 1.6 million homes with fibre and connected around 450,000.

It is also in the process of merging its network assets, alongside those belonging to sister company DFA, with that of Vodacom to create a new infrastructure company called Maziv.

The venture aims to streamline Vumatel and DFA parent company CIVH and Vodacom’s fibre network operations and increase their efficiencies.

The merger is still being considered by South Africa’s regulators.


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South Africa’s fibre explosion