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Fibre to the home – the next generation utility

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Fibre to the home – the next generation utility

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5 min read

Today telecommunications are as much part of life as electricity and water. There are many telecommunications operators and service providers to choose from, and many companies can offer you a next-generation broadband network. These broadband networks will connect ultra-high-speed – 1 Gbps and above − to homes, offices and premises around your development, whether business park, residential community or mixed use.

Because computer files are getting larger, the need for more capacity and higher resolutions is increasing rapidly. Low-speed internet gives you poor online connectivity and limits what you can do. With optical fibre your development will enjoy a richer broadband experience and allow your tenants to use high-demand applications such as cloud computing and SaaS (software as a service).

Fibre has significant benefits which make it a true value proposition for your business park or residential community. In residential communities fibre allows us to turn our homes into smart homes and enjoy triple-play services. With a fibre connection you can download a movie in a matter of seconds, manage your home remotely and maintain real-time video surveillance. Online education allows children to study at the best universities from the comfort of their homes, as if they were right there in the lecture hall.

Access to high-speed broadband fosters a more attractive environment for new home and business owners, and will also motivate others to relocate. As more and more social added-value services (such as business, social, health, education and government services) are offered online, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that your development is fibre-ready.

Fibre networks across South Africa are growing, unlocking new districts to FTTH products and services. Competition between the various network and Internet service providers is rife. This puts pressure on the end user, whether a property developer or home user, who has to take far-reaching decisions that are made more difficult by increasingly intricate terms and conditions attached to lengthy contracts. More often than not, you really feel the need for the insights of a professional neutral party to assist in your decision-making process.

The FTTH Council Africa is a not-for-profit industry association that was formed in 2010 to educate stakeholders on the benefits of high-speed broadband access. While the name implies a focus on fibre to the home, the council delivers a service covering all aspects of fibre optic infrastructure, including fibre to business, fibre to the tower, fibre to the home, and all other applications that require fibre. It is an international organisation with more than 550 members globally.

We caught up with Juanita Clark, co-founder and CEO of the FTTH Council Africa, to gain more insight into how the council is assisting fibre communities across Africa.

The FTTH Council Africa has a board of directors that are industry veterans, as well as several advisory committees that fulfil critical functions in the technical, policy and regulatory areas, with civils and operations working groups. The advisory committees are chaired by some of the most senior individuals in the industry.

What can the FTTH Council Africa offer the private sector?

The organisation provides objective, independent advice – free of charge – to property developers, managers, homeowners’ associations, residential communities, local authorities and other stakeholders looking for guidance on their fibre strategy. The mandate of the organisation is to remain independent at all times. It is important to note that it does not subscribe to any particular company, product or service. It considers the individual needs of stakeholders and supports them with information-sharing and education on a case-by-case basis. Anyone can request support from the FTTH Council Africa at any point. Greenfield and brownfield deployment each have unique considerations, but the organisation is willing to support either type of initiative.

Should the developer involve the council from the early planning stages?

Yes, it is important to make contact with the council on as soon as the decision has been made to include fibre as part of the development.

What kind of advice can the developer expect from the FTTH Council?

The council is geared to provide stakeholders with end-to-end project advice. It has, in its working groups, access to the best skills in the country and from around the world.

Can the FTTH Council help with the infrastructure development plan?

The FTTH Council Africa can work with anyone on its infrastructure plans, but it has a very clear policy not to get involved in project adjudication. It does not make product-specific recommendations, nor does it recommend service providers. It will not play any part in tender evaluation.

Can the FTTH Council africa highlight any common pitfalls that developers should know about?

• Don’t think that there is a cookie cutter approach to your needs.

• You must consult with several service providers to find the best fit for your project.

• One of the greatest pitfalls is entering into exclusive contracts that span decades.

• Beware of paying exorbitant deployment costs.

You can avoid some of these pitfalls if you take note that members of the council subscribe to a code of conduct and are committed to working ethically and delivering high-quality telecommunications networks.

Can FTTH Council clarify the esoteric terminology that we keep hearing from the industry?

The FTTH Council Africa has a definitions document that tries to explain the jargon. Contact to get a copy, or phone us to chat about it.

What protection does a development have once it has selected a specific network provider?

With any service provider, there is recourse to mediation and legislation. But do yourself a favour: select the right partner for the specific site. Do your homework in advance. While almost everything can be fixed after the fact, it will delay projects and have a cost.

What happens if the network provider delays  THE completion of the infrastructure, thus delaying other works?

It is important to note that in greenfields developments, developers themselves can deploy the infrastructure. Once a network provider has been selected, the developer can ask for an installation specification and complete the civils component itself, as part of the deployment. Developers are the civils experts, after all. The FTTH Council Africa has several civils companies as members that can support developers and property managers with this deployment. In retrofit environments it’s not that simple, but it is still possible, and should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Once dark fibre has been installed, should the developer use the same service provider for the other services?

This brings up the debate between open access and exclusive access, and operators will argue that both have merit. It is important for developers and property managers to understand what each type of access means and to make a decision based on their individual requirements.

Must the development run its security system on a different network?

No, you can run your security on the same network, as long as you have provided for adequate bandwidth to accommodate your specific requirements.

Must the development fill an uptake quota set out by THE network provider?

There are no legal requirements for a minimum uptake. There are financial considerations, however. Network operators consider an uptake of 35% an acceptable return on investment, as this stacks up the business case. One must appreciate that it is very expensive to deploy fibre optics, especially in a retrofit scenario, mainly due to the civils component, which makes up around 70% to 80% of the initial investment. Fibre is a highly desirable product, and communities are in a mad race to get fibre to their areas, both new and existing.

In order to make their developments more attractive to network operators, many communities are guaranteeing certain levels of uptake. As this is a very expensive industry to be in, one can understand that these areas will naturally receive priority.

The Developer Journal is available online and in print.

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