Fibre to homes in SA ‘inevitable’

By Editor

03 June 2011

CIV director Richard Came

High-speed fibre to the home (FTTH) is “inevitable” in SA and will be commonplace within a decade, if not earlier.

That’s the view of Richard Came, director at Community Investment Ventures, a telecommunications investment holding company that owns a significant minority stake in national and metropolitan fibre company Dark Fibre Africa.

“FTTH will happen,” he says. “In 10 years you will see it, but I would like to think it will happen a lot quicker than that.”

Until widespread fibre roll-out begins, legacy copper networks and wireless infrastructure will play an “intermediate role”, but Came says sooner or later an operator will begin building fibre into people’s homes on a large scale.

Already, one company, i3 Africa, is talking up the idea of using metropolitan sewerage and water pipes to build networks and is talking about taking fibre to 2,5m homes in the next five years.

Came says that the cost of building FTTH networks is falling and the complexity involved is reducing. This will encourage operators to build fibre into homes as an alternative to the copper infrastructure provided by Telkom.

He says the high-end of the market will be the first to be served with FTTH but it will filter down into more communities.

He says a good skills base in fibre networking is being created in SA thanks to national and metropolitan fibre projects. These skills could be put to good use in FTTH projects, he believes.

Came says there is space in the SA market for a smaller, maverick operator to build fibre into people’s homes. But, he says: “Ultimately this is a big guys’ game and they will prevail.”

He says plans to unbundle Telkom’s copper local loop — where rival operators get access to its last-mile network — won’t discourage investment in FTTH.

“The copper network will get exhausted in three or four years,” he says, adding that he thinks Telkom should be investing aggressively in FTTH while protecting its legacy copper network. Copper is inherently a poorer technology than fibre, with the latter able to offer much higher throughput.

Before FTTH can take off, though, Came says government needs to make it easier for private-sector operators to build infrastructure by facilitating rights of way and making construction easier.

“We need to get the frameworks in place, not throw money at some or other existing state-owned enterprise,” he says. “Government must just give investors some certainty. There’s a big appetite for funding, but it would be a lot bigger if government created more certainty.”