South Africa’s fibre network war

South Africa has nine fibre network operators (FNOs) that pass at least 100,000 customers with fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity.

Combined, these FNOs connect over 1.5 million South African households with FTTH, the fastest and most reliable type of Internet access available to the general public.

Fibre broadband beats both legacy copper-based DSL services and existing mobile data connectivity in speed, consistency, and latency.

The biggest FTTH operator in South Africa is Vumatel, which is owned by Remgro’s Maziv. It also owns Dark Fibre Africa (DFA).

Vumatel’s FTTH network coverage is available to 1.9 million households, over 83% more than those covered by Telkom’s Openserve, which once held a monopoly on fixed-line Internet in South Africa.

The difference between Vumatel and Openserve’s customer bases is much smaller, however.

Whereas Vumatel has 600,000 homes connected to its network, Openserve has 492,812, around 18% fewer.

If the latter replaced all its DSL customers — estimated to be around 74,477 as of March 2023 — it would be breathing down Vuma’s neck in terms of homes connected.

The battle for the third-biggest operator is also hotly contested.

While Herotel has passed more homes with fibre than MetroFibre and Frogfoot, it has not revealed how many of these households have signed up as customers. Vumatel owns a stake in Herotel.

When measuring according to homes connected, Frogfoot is the third biggest operator with 142,000 customers, followed by MetroFibre with 135,000.

Octotel is another big player — with over 100,000 customers connected and more than 315,000 homes passed with its fibre connectivity.

Although Vodacom also has a sizeable number of homes passed with fibre — 165,000 — it does not publish how many of these customers are connected to its FTTH network.

The figures it reports in its financial results include businesses and customers connected via other FNOs.

The table below shows the number of homes passed and connected on each of the biggest FTTH networks in South Africa.

Biggest FTTH networks in South Africa
Fibre network operator (FNO) Homes passed
Households that have access to a particular network
Homes connected
Households that use that network for connectivity
Connectivity rate
Percentage of homes with access to particular network that use it
Vumatel 1,805,000 (December 2022)
1,900,000 (May 2023)
600,000 (December 2022) 33.2% (based on December 2022 figures)
Openserve 1,040,565 (March 2023) 492,812 (March 2023) 47.4%
Herotel 500,000 (May 2023) Not Available Not Available
MetroFibre 460,000 (May 2023) 135,000 (May 2023) 29.3%
Frogfoot 344,000 (May 2023) 142,000 (May 2023) 41.3%
Octotel 315,583 (May 2023) 100,815 (May 2023) 31.9%
Zoom Fibre 180,000 (May 2023) 45,000 (May 2023) %
Vodacom 165,000 (March 2023 — including businesses) Not Available Not Available
Evotel 141,000 (March 2023) 39,000 (March 2023) 27.7%
Total 4,951,148 (includes overlapping homes / overbuilds) 1,554,627 (excludes Herotel and Vodacom) n/a

MyBroadband asked South Africa’s major FTTH operators about their plans for the rest of the year.

Evotel, Herotel, and Vodacom did not respond by the time of publication.

Below are the latest updates from the remaining FNOs regarding their rollout strategies.


Frogfoot

Frogfoot chief product officer David Coleman said that Frogfoot was focused on growing the penetration of its network within existing coverage areas.

In addition, the operator will be piloting prepaid fibre solutions in selected areas in the Western Cape.

These will predominantly use aerial fibre deployments coupled with more affordable, flexible prepaid packages.


MetroFibre

MetroFibre said it aimed to pass an additional 85,000 to 100,000 homes on its network in 2023.

“The target is areas that do not currently have fibre, near to our current network, where there is demand for fibre internet connectivity,” MetroFibre said.

It was also prioritising increasing its connectivity rate — which currently stands at 29.3%.

That figure is the second-lowest of the major FNOs. That means MetroFibre is seeing among the lowest returns on investment on its rollouts, but also has a great opportunity to sign up new customers.

MetroFibre also targets underserved areas with unique services catering to customers who may only require intermittent use on a pay-as-you-go model.

“We’re looking at affordable top-up packages that allow customers to pay only when they need it, removing the concern of lengthy contracts,” the operator said.

MetroFibre said it was also monitoring the market for further consolidation opportunities, with a view to considering potential acquisitions.


Octotel

Octotel chief operating officer, Scott Cunningham, told MyBroadband the operator was continuing to build out its trenched fibre networks at a consistent month-on-month rate.

“We have seen positive results from the communities that to date may not be a priority for many other operators,” Cuningham said.

Octotel said its strategy for the rest of the year sought to bridge the digital divide across the Western Cape.


Openserve

Openserve had little to share regarding a specific rollout strategy.

The company said it believed its position as a leading provider of high-speed connectivity in South Africa would be enhanced thanks to upgrading existing fibre nodes and an undersea cable partnership with Google providing access to 12Tbps of capacity.


Vumatel

Similar to Openserve, Vumatel was fairly vague about its rollout strategy.

“Vuma strives to continue connecting South Africa through innovative deployment and commercial strategies, ensuring as many residents as possible have access to affordable, quality broadband connectivity,” the company stated.

The company has previously indicated that it would increasingly target underserved areas through its Vuma Key and Vuma Reach products.


Zoom Fibre

Zoom Fibre said its rollout strategy focused on underserved communities, where there is a significant need for connectivity for FTTH and business fibre.

It aims to pass 200,000 homes with its network by the end of the year. Expanding fibre-to-the-business will also be a major focus.

Furthermore, the company plans to launch a prepaid FTTH product with an “intensive” rollout.

“Our goal is to double our business offering compared to last year,” the company told MyBroadband.


Now read: ADSL vs fibre prices in South Africa — the winner is clear

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South Africa’s fibre network war