Is fibre only for the elite?

Imagine crystal clear video conferencing without any connection problems, or having immediate access to files in the cloud or streaming high definition videos without having to wait.

September 17, 2013

Imagine crystal clear video conferencing without any connection problems, or having immediate access to files in the cloud or streaming high definition videos without having to wait. If you are one of the lucky few to have a 100Mbps line, then you are living the Internet dream. But why do so few have access to these kinds of high capacity broadband services? Conduct Telecommunications CEO Johan Pretorius discusses the challenges of broadband in South Africa.

The short answer is a lack of infrastructure in what the industry calls the last mile. There has been a boom in fibre optic deployment over the past few years with undersea cables being laid on both coasts of Africa, between the metros and up and down the roads of cities in South Africa.

Even though a decent job has been made to create this mesh backbone, the trouble lies in accessing the fibre. The cost of installing fibre in the last mile, to reach businesses, has been prohibitive for most companies until now.

Either hefty once-off costs would have to be paid upfront or the Internet Service Providers would have to amortise the cost under the service contracts. In both cases it would often make the fibre too costly compared to legacy technologies to easily justify.

The cost will reduce systematically over time, especially as more clients adopt fibre as a means of connectivity. Currently, there is too much duplication of infrastructure, each service provider builds individually to reach its clients, which were often located next to one another or even in the same building.

This uncoordinated approach is wasting unnecessary capital, disrupting property owners and ultimately, costing the consumer more.

Conduct Telecommunications has identified these industry challenges and has created a model to overcome these hurdles. In less than two years, Conduct has already connected more than 2 000 businesses to fibre infrastructure across Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The company provides open-access dark fibre to the building in the last mile, it proactively installs the fibre to buildings in selected commercial areas which all service providers can then use on equal terms. This offers customers a wider choice as they can now use any service provider.

Service providers are now forced to be more competitive on their price and services as they seek to win business over the common infrastructure. The duplication of capital investment is eradicated and disruption is greatly reduced as the infrastructure is installed once. This means the capital expended is shared among the industry more effectively, which ultimately leads to more competitive pricing. It simply makes sense.

Conduct sees the logical separation between the infrastructure and the services it supports, as the means to solve many of the issues that the industry has faced to-date. As access to fibre broadband services is unlocked, the way businesses operate will be transformed. Moreover, it means seamless video conferencing, co-location; storage in the cloud with access to large files within seconds and affordable, reliable telephony services.

The seamless online experience and symmetrical broadband speeds increase productivity and efficiency in the workplace. Fibre optics paves the way for smarter cities, it is the most advanced technology for building communications networks and its reliability and capacity can also support sophisticated security and healthcare systems. There is no doubt that the increased deployment of fibre optic infrastructure will revolutionise the way we do business.