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Dark Fibre Africa lights up

Just how much connectivity is being put in the ground in South African cities? There is much speculation, but little information. One of the key players in the physical roll-out of fibre-optic networks used by major telcos, Dark Fibre Africa, lifts the veil, courtesy of director RiICHARD CAME.

South Africa is experiencing major changes in its telecommunications market, following Altech’s court victory and the landing of the Seacom cable, two concrete signs that market liberalisation is becoming a reality.

Richard Came

Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) is keeping pace with these changes, and has already made rapid progress in creating a carrier-neutral dark fibre network in major metropolitan areas, with 350km of fibre cable laid in Johannesburg. Progress has been made with infrastructure in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town. DFA owns, builds, maintains, secures and monitors the dark fibre network infrastructure, which is then leased to telecommunications operators.

The company is working with a number of network operators, large and small, who recognise the value in shared network infrastructure, and is looking to conclude agreements with more users following the Altech ruling.

Shared fibre infrastructure is the only solution that makes sense in this environment. A carrier-neutral network eliminates the need for each operator to create their own infrastructure and reduces road traffic and the disruption of municipal services dramatically. Network operators will also be able to provide services far more rapidly to customers through the use of shared infrastructure.

DFA’s advanced mechanised trenching technology minimises the time and disruption involved with digging trenches and laying cable in roads and pavements.

DFA customers, including Vodacom Business, have already commented on the speed with which the network is being rolled out. DFA has improved the process, reducing construction time on a link to an average of seven days.

Building a similar link manually would typically involve a minimum disruption of several months. Trenching in the road surface also has advantages in that roads, in contrast with pavements, have been compacted and are less prone to subsidence and deterioration at a later stage.

DFA has made major investments in the creation of a fibre network, covering key metropolitan areas in South Africa’s most important centres, including Soweto. We expect huge demand for broadband, and we can see that many operators are accepting that there are advantages to the shared infrastructure approach. There are a number of operators prepared to take advantage of the cost and time savings that a carrier-neutral network brings.

The physical network routes which operators will construct are expected to overlap significantly, and because civil engineering infrastructure and ducting make up the bulk of the costs of building a fibre network, duplicating trenches and ducting makes no sense. The impact on services that trenching creates – such as disruption to utilities, business, consumers and metro services, are lessened with a single network. A dark fibre network will also make it possible to avoid the unnecessary duplication of cellphone towers that characterised the early stages of the mobile communications industry.

We are not the only company digging trenches in the metropolitan areas, but we are trying to be the most responsible.

  • DFA finances and constructs ducting infrastructure and resells this capacity to individual telecoms operators. The operators are then responsible for commissioning and “lighting” the fibre and selling the capacity on to their customers. DFA was established by empowered investment company Community Investment Ventures (CIV) and VenFin to build a carrier neutral ducting infrastructure to house dark fibre for the transmission of metro and long haul telecommunications traffic.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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