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By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day

There is much activity going on in South Africa with the building of national fibre links and metropolitan fibre infrastructure in major cities, and it is gradually expanding to lesser towns. “We have built fibre links for Dark Fibre Africa in smaller towns like Rustenburg, Polokwane, and East London, as well as in the larger cities,” says Howard Earley, chief operating officer at Plessey.

He says in the next few months Plessey also expects to have completed a fibre link between Johannesburg and Durban for the National Long Distance Network (NLD) consortium, which is made up of Vodacom, Neotel, and MTN. “Within two years, SA will have terrestrial fibre infrastructure to match the capacity of the undersea cables.”

He says this will enable service providers to provide straight through fibre links for medium to large companies, although point-to-point wireless is less costly for the final link to the business premises, and for linking two buildings together. Dark Fibre Africa has built a total of 5761 kilometres of long distance and metropolitan terrestrial fibre infrastructure, at a cost of more than R3-billion.

CEO Gustav Smit says its long distance fibre link runs between Johannesburg, Pretoria and Vereniging in Gauteng to Durban in Kwazulu-Natal, and links up with the Seacom, and EASy undersea cables in Mtunzini. It also links up with the Teraco data centres in Johannesburg and Durban, which Seacom and all the first tier ISPs are connected to.

The company has also built a fibre ring that runs from Cape Town to Yzerfontein where the West African Cable System (WACS) is currently being tested, via Melkbosstrand, where the SAT-3 cable landing station is located. Smit says Broadband Infraco, Telkom, Neotel MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, SA National Research network (SANREN), and the Tertiary Education Network (TENET), and some 28 ISPs are already using portions of the network.

FibreCo Telecommunications, a joint venture between Internet Solutions, Cell C, and Convergence has also started building a long distance fibre network, starting with 4,500 kilometres of fibre. CEO Arif Hussain says the plan is to extend this to 12,000 to 14,000 kilometres over the next four to five years.

The initial rollout, which started earlier this month, will be from Johannesburg to Cape Town to Durban, linking up with the undersea cable landing points within two years. “We have already signed up three anchor customers, BT, Cell C, and Internet Solutions.”

Hussain says China-based ZTE has been contracted to build the network, and will be subcontracting to multiple local infrastructure builders. He says the target date for completion of the first phase of the network is the second half of 2013, but FibreCo expects to be offering services on some sections of the links earlier than that.

BWired Broadband, a company set up by Ericsson and its  partners, is building a 900 kilometre metropolitan fibre ring network for Johannesburg Metropolitan Council.
Musa Nkosi, executive director of BWired Broadband says the initial purpose of the network is to connect 475 municipal buildings.

However, the municipality will only take up a fraction of the capacity of the network and the balance will be sold commercially on a wholesale basis. He says BWired has already signed up a number of operators, ISPs and private sector organisations that have the appropriate licenses to use the network and expects to make inroads into the commercial market by the last quarter of 2013.

“We believe we can provide fibre connectivity at 30% lower than current market prices.” The company has already built nine rings of the core network, which went live in November, consisting of 650 kilometres of fibre.

Nkosi says the network will operate for 12 years through BWired and then be handed over to the municipality at no cost as a going concern. Lex van Wyk, MD of Teraco, says an increasing number of carrier-neutral data centres are emerging worldwide that provide a connectivity point for infrastructure providers, operators, service providers.

Van Wyk says about 1000 carrier-neutral data centres of various sizes currently exist worldwide. In the local market,Teraco has three carrier-neutral data centres, located in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

The company has also recently set up NAPAfrica, an internet exchange with access points that those using its data centres can link to and exchange content with each other and with their clients, without any bandwidth costs. Response times are improved, because the content is routed directly between the participating entities and not via any external service, says van Wyk.

He says without this facility, each entity would have to set up multiple separate connections to link directly to each other. Internet exchanges like NAPAfrica are being set up all over the world, two of the biggest being the London internet Exchange (LINX), and the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX).

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist with 25 years experience, and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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