Link Africa

Link Africa

“Dark fibre”, “dirty movies”, “sewerage pipes” – a little seedy and sordid-sounding, but all part of Link Africa’s mission to bring us closer to the limitless world of the Internet through fibre optics.

Fibre optics provides the ultimate in Internet access – the last word in speed and capacity. With fibre now available to homes in metropolitan areas, FTTH (fibre to the home) is fast becoming a household term. The opportunities that fibre connectivity create are virtually limitless: anything can be transmitted via fibre optics, and in the realm of the “Internet of things” – the idea that everyday objects should be integrated with the Internet – we can look forward to building houses by remote control, via fibre and 3D printers. For the baby boomer generation this may all seem like science fiction, but for millennials it’s just a matter of time. As for Generation Z – they’re simply impatient.

Link Africa lays the multi-fibre cables that bring high-speed Internet to your home or business. The industry has a number of players, but Link Africa stands out for a number of reasons, making it worth a closer look.

One of the biggest obstacles standing between the end client and access to fibre is the cost, 80% of which comes from the civil process: digging the trenches, physically laying the cables and then restoring the environment. Link Africa, however, has the patent for laying fibre cable in existing sewerage and water pipes. This reduces the civil work dramatically, resulting in cost savings and far less disruption.

Although this sounds like the ideal and obvious method, Link Africa had to fight a two-year legal battle to be allowed to use the technology. The City of Tshwane took the company all the way to the Constitutional Court to keep it from gaining access to “their” water and sewerage systems. Link Africa’s persistence resulted in a win for everyone, when the Constitutional Court confirmed the original High Court ruling that the use of the water and sewerage system for fibre optic cables was to everyone’s benefit − including that of the City of Tshwane: “Fibre-optic cables are the fastest and most effective product on the market to implement electronic communications networks, and provide a safe and secure system that has practically unlimited bandwidth.” That from our Constitutional Court, no less.

Letting Link Africa loose in the sewers has an added benefit for municipalities, because the first step of the process, before laying the precious cables, is to conduct surveys of the piping. This is done with robotic video cameras, which produce “dirty movies” that soon reveal any structural issues. These defects can then be addressed by the municipalities before they cause a breakdown in the sewerage system .

Something else worth noting is Link Africa’s commitment to open access. Link Africa lays the dark fibre cabling – in other words, fibre that isn’t yet connected to the Internet − without charge, and then obtains its revenue by renting out the fibre infrastructure to internet service providers (ISPs). With open access it is up to the end user to choose an ISP. Link Africa can connect the customer to a range of ISPs where the fibre cables “pop” out of the ground. (There’s a deliberate pun here: POP stands for “point of presence”, which is where different devices or networks connect to one other.)

The number of competing ISPs has increased dramatically, with each offering different benefits, and appealing to different users – so a careful choice of options is imperative. Some ISPs, however, enter into exclusive arrangements with a collective or corporate user, such as an office block or housing estate community, or even a suburb. Although it’s theoretically never too late to make a change, there will be increasing, and possibly debilitating, costs attached to making changes if flexibility isn’t built in at ground level – that is, at the planning stage of a development. Open access gives the customer the greatest choice.

However, open access isn’t popular with everyone in the supply chain, as it encourages open competition with less opportunity for exploitative profits. Users are often not knowledgeable enough to make informed choices or be aware when they can demand a greater choice.

The FTTH Council Africa has been formed to put standards and ethical practices in place to help protect the customer, and Link Africa is intensely involved in ensuring that those standards benefit the end user, who often has the weakest voice.

There will unfortunately always be mavericks – who are not members of the council − who think nothing of stealing trenched channel space or locking in unsuspecting clients. André Hoffmann, Link Africa’s Head of Projects, is passionate about doing all that can be done to make fibre accessible to everyone, and is committed to bridging the “digital divide.”

“We’re going to take fibre into the townships, and we’re going to make a difference,” Hoffmann says. With its significant involvement in the FTTH Council Africa, underpinned by a commitment to open access, Link Africa is a dark fibre provider whose vision is to illuminate South Africa with the liberating light of fibre optics. Remember how the mobile phone started out as a toy of the wealthy, but is now a communication device for the masses? Fibre, with its limitless capacity, will become the gateway for millions to benefit from the endless possibilities of the Internet.

Fibre vocabulary:
Fibre to the home, providing homes with access to the Internet through a fibre optic connection.

Internet of things
A world where everyday objects have internet connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.

Dark fibre
Fibre before the “light” of traffic is switched on; i.e. before an ISP connects it to the Internet.

An internet service provider, who provides the connection to the Internet and allows the flow of Internet traffic.

Point of presence: the point where two or more networks or communication devices build a connection with each other.

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