Apathy killing off interest in govt datacentres

Mistrust, lack
of resources 

Apathy hovers over
govt datacentres.

Thursday, Feb 27th

BT readies to use FibreCo network by year-end


Parts of South Africa’s largest ever open access underground fibre network, being built by local firm FibreCo, may be lit up by September 2013, says a top executive from BT Group.

In April last year, FibreCo started the build of a long haul terrestrial fibre network planned to facilitate a ‘national ring’ connecting South Africa’s major urban centres: including the likes of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein and East London.

Stretching 12,000km, the project may attract up to R5 billion in investment upon its completion, says FibreCo.

Construction of the network has also been undertaken in response to what FibreCo says is the growing demand for broadband in South Africa.

Undersea networks such as Seacom and the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (Eassy) have been connected to South Africa since 2009, boosting broadband capacity in the country. However, experts say the true potential of these undersea systems have yet to be realised owing to a lack of last mile connectivity from the coast to inland areas.

Long haul fibre networks, though, do exist in South Africa, as the likes of Telkom, Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), state-owned Broadband Infraco and a consortium including firms such as Neotel, Vodacom and MTN have built such links.

But FibreCo’s project differs because of its large footprint and its open access model, which means that customers of the system own their parts of fibre and can then on-sell capacity. Features such as competitive pricing are also part of this model.

FibreCo chief executive officer Arif Hussain has said his company has three key anchor tenants: UK headquartered telecommunications firm BT Group, South African mobile operator Cell C and internet protocol-based communications service provider Internet Solutions (IS). Anchor tenancy is sold on the basis of a 20 year indefeasible right of use (IRU) for ownership of a number of fibre pairs.

Meanwhile, FibreCo is a joint-venture with the shareholders being Cell C, IS and investment management and advisory firm Convergence Partners.

And BT Group’s general manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Keith Matthews, says his company is readying to potentially use parts of its FibreCo network on the Johannesburg-Cape Town and Johannesburg-Durban routes by the end of this year.

“We’re expecting the fibre-build to be completed in I’d say ‘September-ish’,” Matthews has told ITWeb Africa.

“We’re thinking that by the end of this year we’ll start running some of our services on that network,” Matthews has added.

Apart from using the FibreCo network for its own services, BT Group also plans to sell-on capacity of the parts of the fibre it owns.

“We’re also talking to a number of other parties about them using that network as well,” Matthews has told ITWeb Africa.

“It’s more on a wholesale basis, but there’s nothing that says that some of the large corporates won’t want to take advantage.

“In my view it’s going to be a game-changer in South Africa: not just for us, but for the rest of the market,” Matthews has said.

FibreCo chief executive officer Arif Hussain has confirmed to ITWeb Africa that the likes of BT Group have kick-started plans to use parts of his company’s national network by the end of this year.

“We’re quite close to full kind of light up,” Hussain has told ITWeb Africa.

“Our build is on track. We are aiming to have Joburg, Cape Town and Durban connected up ... by the end of next year. It’s still needs a few things to happen.

“But in the interim yes, there are customers that we want to bring on board from the third quarter of this year. And we will provision them on a combination of our networks and other networks’ capacity,” Hussain has added.

Hussain has not been willing to disclose the exact stages of completion of the project. Yet, he has confirmed to ITWeb Africa that the Johannesburg to East London link, which extends over 1,000 km, has been completed.

“We haven’t lit it (Joburg-East London network) up yet. So, the link is in; fibre’s in but there’s still network commissioning and testing going on, just to make sure that all the equipment is working. For all intense purposes that is done,” Hussain has said.

Hussain has added that the next step for FibreCo is its focus on the Durban to Cape Town network build, which his company is aiming to connect by the end of next year or early 2015.

Steve Song -- a South African fibre network expert who is also the founder of Village Telco, a social enterprise that builds low-cost WiFi mesh VoIP technologies -- says prospects for last mile connectivity in South Africa are looking healthy, albeit for primarily the big urban centres at least.

“South Africa has a lot of emerging terrestrial fibre competition but only in the routes linking major cities,” Song has told ITWeb Africa.

“Metropolitan fibre networks are also looking good. Johannesburg has its city network, being built by BWired. DFA has an extensive urban fibre network (in) Johannesburg, Neotel is there and as well as comparative newcomers like MetroFibre Networx. Similar things are happening in other major cities in South Africa,” Song has said.

Song, however, has added that South Africa is increasingly facing the challenge of connecting the rest of the country.

“What about all the secondary cities in South Africa? Telkom apparently has a massive fibre network connecting virtually every city in the country but not much is known about its capacity or reliability. More importantly, Telkom doesn't operate an open access fibre network so prices for access to their network are likely to remain high for some time,” he has said.

A national broadband strategy that incentivises private industry to build infrastructure where it may not be profitable may then be the key to unlocking true broadband access in South Africa, says Song.

Challenges to this approach, though, could include attempting to avoid such a strategy being sidetracked by “inefficient state-owned bureaucracies” or “tenderpreneurs” in the country, says Song.

“My approach to this would be to put power in the hands of municipalities.

“Make broadband infrastructure funds available to them as well as support for managing tender processes and allow them to let companies bid to build fibre infrastructure to reach them.

“This way you reward municipalities that show initiative. You limit tenderpreneurship by localising the problem so that a) municipalities have a vested interest in making sure that they get what they pay for; and, b) corruption, when it happens, is local and not a national problem. Municipalities are also well-placed to ensure that networks are managed on an open access basis,” Song concludes.


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