South Africa’s fibre-to-the-home market is like a gold rush, with companies racing to be first to stake their claims on the most lucrative neighbourhoods and estates in the country.
This has led to a surge in the availability of affordable, high-speed broadband services in South Africa, but according to sources at ISPs, it has resulted in unscrupulous behaviour.
An example is companies putting up signs and informing residents they plan to roll out fibre in their area, signalling to other infrastructure players to go elsewhere.
However, these companies may have no intention of rolling out fibre in the near future. They have staked their claim, but only plan to return to the area months later to start their work.
The haphazard way in which areas are being claimed, combined with coverage map accuracy issues, results in Internet service providers sending out inaccurate notices to subscribers.
DSL subscribers have reported receiving messages from their ISP that fibre is available in their area, only to discover upon applying that they are not covered.
The inverse also happens, where people see fibre has been rolled out, but they are unable to order any services.
“We have had other situations where you can see fibre on the pole, but the map says it is unavailable,” said Cybersmart CTO Laurie Fialkov.
Yet, the next week, Telkom’s retail division manages to install fibre to the customer.
There are also cases of outsourced door-to-door sales people stating that fibre is available, but the infrastructure provider’s map shows nothing of the sort.
“It is a difficult operating environment, which is why, whenever possible, we try lay our own infrastructure so that we have end-to-end control of the service,” said Fialkov.
Since Cybersmart started laying its own fibre, Fialkov said they have gained insight into the challenges faced by operators like Openserve – Telkom’s wholesale and networks division.
Outsourced fibre installers may report to one division of the company that a build has been completed, resulting in its online coverage map being updated.
However, the data supplied to Internet service providers is only updated once a build has been signed off.
With South Africa’s fibre market still in its infancy, technical kinks are being ironed out while companies are scrambling to roll out infrastructure and launch services.
The next few years will be exciting for broadband users and service providers, but they will not be without their frustrations.