If the lockdown South Africa is currently experiencing is highlighting anything then it is to show that access to fibre has become as much a human right as electricity and running water. With many employees now having to work from home and others placed on enforced leave, high-speed, reliable, and affordable internet access becomes critical.
"Even if the country is still very much in a
fibre deployment phase, the competitive landscape in South Africa has enabled
fibre providers to roll out at aggressive rates. This has resulted in the
growth of demand for fibre at homes with people discovering increasingly
innovative ways to benefit from its use," says Shane Chorley, head of sales and
marketing at Frogfoot Networks, a wholly owned subsidiary of Vox.
While installing a fibre connection inside a house can be disruptive, it provides a far more consistent experience than what is available from wireless technologies such as 4G, LTE, and 3G. As more home users are accessing a range of bandwidth-intensive applications such as video streaming services and video conferencing solutions, the wireless networks have struggled to maintain service levels.
"But once fibre is installed, the ability to upgrade it is relatively simple because it is a fixed-line connection. This also means that even if the home user is unsure about what line speed to get, the internet service provider can upgrade it in real-time to more accurately reflect their needs."
This means that unlike 4G which has a theoretical maximum download speed of 100Mbps (assuming there are no other users on the network), a fibre line can be upgraded to 1Gbps with no contention (meaning the line speed is not impacted by the amount of users on your home network). To put this into context, a high definition movie might take 15 minutes to download over a 100Mbps 4G line when nobody else is using it. That same movie will take less than 30 seconds to download on the 1Gbps fibre connection even if other members of the household are using the line.
"Given the current COVID-19 crisis the country is experiencing, we have made the strategic decision to move customers to higher line speeds free of charge from 1 April to 30 June. This Double Up promotion is vital to mitigate against some of the economic impact the lock down will have on South Africans. With more people accessing fibre from home during this period, we anticipate some will use connectivity more excessively, whilst others might still maintain their usual behaviour. But given the increased demand for video streaming services and work from home solutions, this promotion will ensure a consistent user experience."
Chorley says that fibre providers such as Frogfoot are classified as an essential service, forming part of the telecommunication basket of providers. This means that it can continue running and maintaining its network.
"While we will be able to continue with home installations, some of the practical aspects around this will still need to be understood. There is a balance to what we want to do versus what is possible. So, even though we can certify our contractors and suppliers to work during this lock down period, the entire supply chain must be operational. For example, how will our contractors get access to what has been labelled as non-essential materials during this time?"
He says that the highest priority for the business will always be the safety of its employees and its customers.
"There has been a massive spike in demand for fibre over the past several days. We will put all the necessary health and safety checks in place for our contractors performing installations and we will never force ourselves into people?s homes. Customers must request an installation to take place and we will manage the process as safely as possible."
Focus on infrastructure
Adding complexity to this is the confusion that still exists between what fibre providers like Frogfoot are responsible for and how internet service providers (ISPs) come into the process.
"People should think of us as the ones supplying the highway. The ISP manages the traffic on the highway. We rarely deal with end users as the ISP is the customer-facing part of the fibre journey. Fibre providers enable ISPs to do what they do and inject the infrastructure with different value adds. More user education is required in this regard, but we anticipate that the coming weeks will see people start realising and fully understanding the benefits of having a connected home and even a remote working environment," he concludes.
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