Cape Town - A new “mini-city” the size of Cape Town’s City Bowl is about to be connected to the world of information with a super-fast fibre-optic network, delivering some of the fastest connectivity speeds on the continent.
The mixed-use node of Paardevlei spans about 730 hectares between Somerset Mall, Somerset West, Strand and the False Bay coastline just west of Strand beach.
For more than a century, the vast property was hidden from the public eye. Cecil John Rhodes initially set up his explosives factory there, but by 1995 what had evolved by then into African Explosives and Chemicals Industries (AECI) ceased manufacturing on site.
Since then its property arm, Paardevlei Properties (previously known as Heartland Properties), has been hard at work devising development plans for the property, as well as rehabilitating its previous manufacturing areas.
The entire chunk of land earmarked for eventual development is as big as Cape Town’s City Bowl – from the top of Tamboerskloof to the harbour.
Paardevlei announced this week it had entered into an agreement with Frogfoot Technologies to operate a fibre-optic network, which will go live on September 1.
Frogfoot project manager Hannes Pieterse said: “Fibre-optic connectivity is the fastest and most efficient connectivity technology currently available. Comparing 3G mobile technology, or wi-fi or ADSL technologies, to the lightning-fast speeds provided by fibre networks is rather like comparing a cheetah’s speed with that of a tortoise. Now Paardevlei boasts something much faster even than the cats at the Cheetah Outreach Trust.”
The network has been designed to carry future connectivity demand for the just under 2 million square metres of development designated at Paardevlei.
“Chances of going offline are therefore very close to zero,” Pieterse explained. “The network has two routes back to Cape Town where it physically terminates at the Teraco Data Centre, the largest vendor-neutral data centre in the country.
This provides a number of advantages for consumers. First, explains Pieterse, it ensures a quick turnaround for those wishing to connect.
“In addition, the fibre network’s circular route creates geographical diversity, meaning there will always be two routes for connecting to the grid, ensuring constant connectivity.
“Connection to the data centre is also a great advantage for businesses with branches in Joburg and/or Durban, since they can all link up directly via the highly reliable fibre network. Because the network is open access, companies and private users will also not be tied into using one service provider exclusively, leaving them freedom to negotiate,” he said.
Paardevlei regional manager Mark Bezencon added: “The fibre network offers users quadruple play services, which include seamless internet speeds, extremely high-quality voice calls, real-time video and other low latency services such as gaming and online trading.
“It’s a must-have for any future-minded business, while simultaneously offering private residents fantastic, high-speed and hassle-free connectivity.”
Apart from numerous commercial and industrial entities already operating on site, two medical facilities are earmarked for completion by the end of the year.
On the environmental side, the plan for the vlei, as reported by the Cape Argus in 2005, was to empty the lake, clean it, landscape it and build a waterfront on its shores – a waterside esplanade to rival the V&A Waterfront in Table Bay.
In 2012 the Cape Argus reported on how these plans had been reversed entirely and it had instead been decided, in the name of environmental responsibility, to return the vlei to its natural state and preserve it as an important natural wetland.
Protected “green belts” will thread through the entire development, ensuring the protection and sustainability of the Paardevlei, its accompanying wetlands and the natural watercourses which feed them.
The making of a mini-city
Manufacturing operations at Paardevlei slowed down and ceased in the mid-1990s. Following that, the site, below, was cleared of most of the factory buildings. Apart from the Herbert Baker and other heritage buildings (and some others being let) other areas still await development.
Precinct 1, comprising 145 000m2 of mixed-use development, was approved in 2008. A portion of this land still has existing buildings currently let until the area is developed.
Around 80 000m2 is sold with most of the balance under negotiation. Current developments include a 100-bed private hospital and 3 500m2 day hospital – both of which are due for completion by year end.
The first of the office buildings have been recently completed and occupied. The area includes a site to accommodate a 9 500m2 convenience retail centre.
The application for Precinct 2 is under way – the site covers 100 hectares with mixed-use bulk of 400 000m2.
Current offerings on site include the Triggerfish microbrewery and Flagstone winery. Corporate Social Investment initiatives include the Cheetah Outreach Trust and Cotlands Children’s Aids Hospice.
Other initiatives being investigated include a private education facility and other recreational activities such as cycling tracks.
Hot spots and a city on a roll
The Paardevlei project is similar to technological progress across the Western Cape.
In the State of the Province address this year, it was announced that the provincial government had signed a groundbreaking agreement with Neotel, as part of its plan to roll out broadband internet access across the province.
There will be 2 000 government buildings with wi-fi, and a further 384 hot spots.
These 2 000 government buildings consist of government offices, schools, health facilities, libraries and museums, where the users will be government employees, health workers, teachers and school pupils. The wi-fi here will, however, not be the “public access” type found at the 384 hot spots in municipal wards.
A mix of fibre-optic and high-speed wireless access will be used during the first phase of the project. Network speeds will be increased over the duration of the project and by year nine all sites will be connecting with a minimum speed of 1Gbps, which will necessitate the use of fibre-optic cables.
About 1 000 sites will be connected by the end of the first year of the project (about August next year), and the balance a year later.
After connecting the 2 000 government sites to the broadband network, phase 2 will start the process of upgrading network speeds from 10Mbps to 100Mbps, and from 100Mbps to 1Gbps.
This phase of the project will take five years and will start by about August 2017. The last phase of the project will see all sites connecting at minimum speeds of 1Gbps.
The roll-out of the hot spots will be tied to the roll-out plan of the fibre-optic infrastructure.
At present some government buildings are using the City of Cape Town’s fibre network, so high-speed network access is available at a relatively small number of sites.
This project will ensure that all the WCG buildings are connected with speeds of at least 10Mbps.
Ordinary users will receive a complimentary 250Mb a month, after which they will be able to buy top-up vouchers.