South Africa’s big fibre rush

South Africa’s biggest fibre network operators (FNOs) continued to expand their fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) networks substantially in 2023.

The number of people using FTTH has surged past those who had a Telkom DSL package at the peak of its popularity in 2014.

At its height, there were around a million DSL customers in South Africa.

Fibre not only provides faster and more reliable connections with greater capacity, it is also immune against one of the biggest weaknesses of ADSL — copper cable theft.

We asked South Africa’s major fibre networks for their latest numbers of homes passed and connected for a comprehensive perspective on the state of FTTH in South Africa.

Some would only provide one or the other number, while one operator would not give its latest figures.

We calculated there were well over 1.65 million FTTH customers in South Africa when only counting subscribers from seven of the nine biggest operators.

We could not include numbers from Vodacom because it reports customers on other fibre networks as part of its homes connected figure. We also excluded Herotel because it does not report its FTTH and wireless customers separately.

The table below outlines the most recent figures of homes passed and connected on South Africa’s nine biggest fibre networks.

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
Last reported connectivity rate
Percentage of homes with access to particular network that use it
Vumatel 1,805,000 (December 2022)
2,000,000 (August 2023)
600,000 (December 2022)
664,000 (August 2023)***
33.2% (December 2022)
Openserve 1,158,761 (September 2023) 542,598 (September 2023) 46.8% (September 2023)
Metrofibre 500,000 (November 2023) 160,000 (November 2023) 32% (November 2023)
Frogfoot 361,000 (September 2023) 151,000 (September 2023) 41.8% (September 2023)
Octotel 350,000 (December 2023) 115,000 (December 2023) 32.9% (December 2023)
Vodacom 165,879 including businesses (September 2023) Unknown Unknown
Evotel 141,000 (March 2023) 39,000 (March 2023) 27.7% (March 2023)
Zoom Fibre 180,000 (May 2023)
191,000 (November 2023)
45,000 (May 2023)
47,750 (November 2023)***
25% (May 2023)
Herotel 500,000 including wireless customers (May 2023) 193,003 including wireless customers (November 2023) Unknown
Total 4,701,761* 1,652,598**
1,719,348***
*Includes overlapping homes/overbuilds and excludes Herotel and Vodacom)
**Excludes Herotel and Vodacom
***Estimates for active customers on Vumatel and Zoom. Calculated using latest Home Passed figures, assuming Connectivity Rate remained unchanged

We also gathered feedback from the fibre networks about their biggest achievements and challenges in 2023.

Below is what they had to share on these topics. Openserve did not provide comment by publication.


Vumatel

Vumatel regards its biggest achievement as growing its lower-end Vuma Reach market to exceed one million homes.

The milestone comes less than three and a half years after piloting its prepaid offering in Mitchell’s Plain in the Western Cape.

“We now cover most of the large townships within the major metros,” Vumatel said.

Vumatel’s overall network passed two million homes. It has not shared the latest number of customers connected to its network.

Vumatel said its greatest challenge was increased pressure on fibre- and power-related infrastructure.

“This has created a very challenging environment in which we have to still keep our networks up to support our FTTH networks,” Vumatel said.

Vumatel said the secondary impact of copper cable theft had also increased significantly with the increased stages of load-shedding.

In addition, it had seen more frequent damage-related failures on municipal infrastructure, impacting its operational costs.

Lastly, it said keeping internal employees and employees of its partners safe while working out in the field was becoming increasingly difficult, and it was reviewing several initiatives to promote safety.


MetroFibre

MetroFibre highlighted four of its most significant milestones in 2023:

  • The relaunch of its brand, including a new logo
  • The launch of its fibre-to-the-business (FTTB) Cape Town network in November 2023
  • Steady growth and uptake of its FTTH network in underserved areas such as Thembisa in Gauteng, Shakaskraal in KZN and New Brighton in the Eastern Cape.
  • The first of our physical Experience Stores launching in Thembisa this month.

MetroFibre said among its biggest challenges was customers experiencing economic difficulties, which it has tried to counteract with value-for-money packages.

It has also endured vandalism on its network infrastructure and continued interference by business forums, sometimes informally referred to as “construction mafias”. 

Thirdly, load-shedding, exchange rates, and high inflation have increased costs incurred by the company.

Lastly, municipal subcontractors causing damage to networks while repairing roads and other utilities were also problematic.


Frogfoot

Frogfoot chief product officer David Coleman said two of the operator’s achievements stood out in 2023.

Firstly, it concluded the acquisitions of additional fibre assets that expanded Frogfoot’s national FTTH footprint.

This included the purchase of some fibre assets from Surf4Life, who continue to operate as an FNO and ISP within exclusively serviced estates in Gauteng and remains a key partner to Frogfoot.

It also bought the entire fibre networks owned and operated by Garden Route Fibre Networks and Route Fibre Networks.

It has rolled out a new and the rollout of our new product in previously underserviced areas in the Western Cape.

“The acquisition of these assets expanded Frogfoot’s footprint in Gauteng, the Garden Route and Cape Peninsula, adding approximately 20,000 homes passed to the network.”

The operator also expanded into previously underserviced areas with the introduction of itsRise prepaid fibre product in Vrygrond (also known as Capricorn) in September 2023 and Philippi South in November 2023.

Coleman said input price pressure, load-shedding and a shrinking addressable market within traditional leafy suburbs were some of the main realities the management team faced during 2023.

To counteract load-shedding and ensure the availability and sustainability of its network, it bolstered the reserve and emergency power supply at its core nodes.


Octotel

Octotel brand manager Scott Cunningham said achieving 100,000 connected customers was its big highlight of the year.

“We are estimating to end the 2023 year with 115,000 connected customers,” he told MyBroadband.

New areas rolled out in 2023 included parts of the following towns and suburbs:

  • Scottsdene
  • George
  • Heideveld South
  • Gugulethu South
  • Eureka
  • Fisantkraal
  • Wellington Central and West
  • Valhalla Park
  • Thembalethu
  • Kwanokuthula
  • Marine Way
  • Newfields
  • Baracuda
  • Lwandle
  • Adriaanse
  • Le Grande
  • Laguna Grove
  • Avonwood
  • Temperance Town
  • Wellington
  • Leonsdale, Elsiesriver
  • Wellington Newton
  • Quay West
  • Scottsdene Blokke
  • Sunningdale
  • Keurboomstrand
  • Croydon

Cunningham said Octotel had also significantly invested in best-in-class inverter and lithium-ion battery backup systems to combat load-shedding.

“The network is currently unaffected by Eskom’s forecasted load-shedding schedules,” he stated.

“If there is a demand for additional backup capacity due to extended load-shedding windows, we are equipped to deploy further equipment where or if required.

Cunningham added that  100% of Octotel’s Cape Town backhaul requirements will be self-supplied by the end of December 2023.

This will provide the operator with full control over service uptime as well as maintenance and repairs that carried out by its internal Octotel Teams.

Cunningham singled out three main challenges to Octotel’s continued fibre rollout in 2023:

  • Stringent municipal regulations pertaining to permit approvals in the broader Western Cape towns
  • Volatile weather conditions during the winter months
  • Safety-related issues experienced during rollout phases and post-go-live in certain Western Cape environments


Evotel

Evotel general manager Bradley Bekker said the company had invested considerably into strengthening its network against load-shedding, power issues, vandalism, and other damage.

It also improved its backup lines and contingencies to 95% of its network.

In addition, Evotel has added more schools to its network in various parts of the country.

Bekker said the smaller cities that Evotel focused on had largely been neglected by fibre providers.

As with the rest of the industry, Evotel has also strained under severe load-shedding,

However, Bekker said Evotel’s networks were secure against the rotational power cuts.

Bekker also cited that municipal work in Evotel’s trenched networks continued to threaten its fibre’s reliability.

The company has also experienced vandalism in areas more predisposed to criminal activity, with thieves mistaking fibre to be as valuable as copper.


Zoom Fibre

Zoom Fibre’s “pivotal moment” of 2023 came with the introduction of its Zoom Flex prepaid product.

It also regards its rollout of fibre in previously disadvantaged areas like Ongegund, Orange Farm, and Golden Gardens as one of its significant achievements.

The operator said it was witnessing an exceptional uptake in these newly connected areas, surpassing 2023 projections and reflecting the value of the products and demand for quality connectivity.

Customers on its regular postpaid month-to-month packages also received free speed upgrades.

In addition, Zoom Fibre introduced a package with 15Mbps speeds starting at under R300.

That is a big deviation from trends at other operators, some of whom are cutting their entry-level packages and forcing customers to adopt higher speeds that they don’t necessarily need,

Zoom Fibre said its biggest challenge of the year was the tough economy, which posed a hurdle to uptake in the first half of the year.


Herotel

Herotel maintains it achieved the position of third-largest FNO in South Africa in 2023.

While it has rolled out its coverage to at least 500,000 homes, this includes its wireless network.

The FNO also revealed it had 191,300 customers, which once again includes its wireless subscribers.

The operator added that the launch of Hero Prepaid offering marked a significant accomplishment for the company.

Herotel also listed load-shedding as one of its significant challenges, in addition to entering previously underserved markets.

In 2023, Herotel successfully expanded its FTTH coverage into the following suburbs and towns:

  • Bisho
  • Bohlokong
  • Daduza
  • Dwarskersbos
  • Ekangala
  • Eshowe
  • Frankfort
  • Giyani
  • Graaff Reinet
  • Ikageng
  • Jouberton
  • Kabokweni
  • Kanyamazane
  • Kgotsong
  • King Williams Town
  • Klarinet
  • Ladysmith
  • Mamelodi
  • Matsulu
  • McGregor
  • Mdantsane
  • Mossel Bay
  • Ncotshane
  • Oceanview
  • Phalaborwa
  • Port Elizabeth
  • Railton
  • Randlespark
  • Sebokeng
  • Siyabushwa
  • Somerset East
  • Stilfontein
  • Thembisa
  • Vlakfontein
  • Worcester


Now read: MetroFibre launches first store in township

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South Africa’s big fibre rush