Arif Hussain, FibreCo projects. Photo: supplied

Asha Speckman

FIBRECO will begin digging new routes for its national fibre-optic network within the next two to three months, according to Arif Hussain, the company’s chief executive.

The company is rolling out a long-distance network, which it will expand from East London to Cape Town and from East London to Durban.

Construction of the first link, a 2 000km route from Johannesburg to Cape Town via Bloemfontein, East London and Port Elizabeth, began in April and is expected to be completed by the first quarter of next year.

The company is a joint venture between South Africa’s third cellular operator, Cell C; Internet Solutions, which is a unit of Dimension Data; and the Convergence Partners investment consortium. It aims to control a countrywide, open access fibre-optic network of more than 12 000km.

The partners have earmarked R5 billion for the project, which is expected to create at least 2 300 jobs directly and indirectly. Hussain said last week that about R1bn had been spent on the rollout so far.

Various private projects to construct long-distance fibre-optic networks are under way as telecommunications players seek to advance competition in the terrestrial backhaul network market, which is dominated by Telkom with a 140 000km network.

Neotel, Vodacom and MTN are constructing a 5 000km national fibre-optic network.

The routes link bandwidth capacity carried by undersea cables along South Africa’s east and west coasts to inland towns.

The initiatives are expected to not only result in lower broadband prices, but to enhance South Africa’s overall broadband capacity and competitiveness. Inland companies such as Dark Fibre Africa are connecting metros and cities with fibre-optic networks.

The additional capacity is required to service surging demand for services such as social networking, music streaming and video conferencing.

“We need a fundamental shift in the amount of broadband available,” Hussain said.

He said Africa accounted for 2 percent of the world fibre-optic market being deployed on a year-to-year basis. South Africa was responsible for about 10 percent of the continent’s fibre-optic rollout.

Hussain said the world was investing in infrastructure at a faster rate than South Africa.

Kenyan media reported last month that China had loaned funds worth billions of Kenyan shillings to the African country for its national fibre-optic backbone infrastructure and e-government expansion projects.

Hussain said: “In the context of broadband there’s no question we are behind the curve. The country needs a whole new tier of broadband infrastructure.”

FibreCo’s model gives customers direct access to its fibre-optic network and allows them to link their own equipment.

The open access network was a fundamental shift and lowered the barriers to entry for other enterprises that wanted to offer broadband services, Hussain added.

“We need to maximise the utilisation of networks. The price point needs to come down. Customers need to be given the ability to use a lot more,” he said.

Commenting on the recent suggestion by Communications Minister Dina Pule that she may ask the Independent Communications Authority of SA to regulate the prices of data transfer services, Hussain said the answer was not to “regulate the hell out of the market”.

“The market is capable (of reducing prices) but it is a question of enabling competition,” he claimed.