Concerns over damage caused by FTTH - TechCentral

Concerns over damage caused by FTTH


Fibre is the way to go. That is not up for debate. Quicker downloads, less buffer time when streaming and seamless online video chats are all perks of having faster Internet. So, for those who can afford to have fibre installed, it’s a no-brainer.

Or so you would think.

There appears to be no shortage of troubled households whose dreams of getting fibre to the home (FTTH) have been replaced with nightmares of power cuts and water outages due to damage to underground infrastructure when digging trenches to lay fibre-optic cables.

According to Dark Fibre Africa chief strategy officer Rashaad Sha, these disruptions are an inevitable part of the process. So, perhaps getting fibre is not a decision that should be taken lightly, or quickly.

“Residents need to practise meditation and patience because, irrespective of their circumstance, there are bound to be disruptions,” says Sha. “No fibre provider should be telling residents that there aren’t going to be any disruptions or that there will be no incidents because it’s impossible to know.”

Sha says interruptions happen because companies sometimes hit a service while digging, which may not have been identified by the service provider when the fibre companies showed them where they had planned to dig.

“Sometimes they may be able to identify the location of their infrastructure but they have no idea what the depth is. Or perhaps because the contractors that built that infrastructure did not follow those specifications,” says Sha. “The specs may have said to lay the water pipe one metre down, for example, but there’s no way of knowing how far down the water pipe was actually laid.”

Nevertheless, he adds that there seems to be a lot more disruption, especially in the suburbs, which he says boils down to the increasing demand for fibre and the sheer concentration of underground infrastructure, compared to businesses areas. But it is also because of the proliferation of fibre companies, some of which have little experience.

So, what about the new fibre company with less than three years in the business that could be operating in your suburb?

Says Sha: “I can’t say for certain that the process they are following is as robust as what we follow… We x-ray each road that we build on. We don’t just go with what the utility service providers tell us. But even then there are no guarantees.

“What you need to remember is that [many of these FTTH providers]need to build the fibre network as cheaply as possible in order to make the business case work. Something is bound to break when you’re building it as cheaply as some of them are doing it.”

Damage to roads and pavements

Environmental sciences lecturer at the Unisa Tracey McKay, says another problem with fibre is the state in which roads and pavements are left in the aftermath. Fibre companies seldom return them to the state they were found in. In addition, she says it seems each fibre company gets permission to dig, so the same set of pavements is dug up several times.

“The roads are dug up and left open so water can penetrate the subsurface,” she says. “It’s a serious situation because it compromises the strength of the road, which is often badly replaced (you see compressions/depressions developing in the road) or not replaced at all in the case of pavements.

Reshaad Sha

Reshaad Sha

“The companies appear to be taking advantage of the fact that there is a jurisdiction issue over pavements between City Parks and the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) and because of this, neither JRA nor City Parks is overseeing the repair of the pavements, thus, with no oversight, costly repairing/reinstatement doesn’t happen.”

McKay suggests that companies use trenchless or no dig technology, which produces less waste, less disruption and generates better, more skilled jobs.

  • This piece was originally published on Moneyweb and is used here with permission


  1. Hitting Thefan on

    Why have they not looked at running fibre via the light/electricity poles. This requires not trenching.

  2. Greg Mahlknecht on

    Telkom do that, it’s cheaper and quicker to roll out, but it’s a bad solution – the great thing about subterranean fibre is that it’s out the way of the elements and wildlife, so once unless someone digs it up, it’s relatively maintenance free for decades. The residents might be put out a bit suring the build, but it’s well worth it in the long run.

  3. William Stucke on

    Chapter 4 of the ECA specifies the rights of licensees in installing network infrastructure in or on property belonging to others, and crucially, the process to be followed to guide the drafting of meaningful and acceptable regulations around this issue such that the rights of others receive due consideration.
    As one of the co-authors of the draft Rapid Deployment Policy, I am disappointed that the DTPS has elected to postpone the publication of this policy from last year to this month (they say). This means that the subject remains unresolved, ten years after the publication of the Electronic Communications Act

  4. Greg Mahlknecht on

    What does that mean in english? 🙂 That the property owner should have a say in what happens on their verges?

  5. Eric Martinsich on

    Plessey and a few other contractors are going to place their cables and drops to the poles.

  6. Andrew James on

    In Constantia they are running the fibre through storm water drains and sewer pipes. They only trench in a few places where there are no options.
    Once Telkom woke up to the fact a competitor was doing this, they decided to trench everywhere which is much more expensive and takes longer.

  7. If a trench is laid through the verge outside of my property requires that it undergo some excavation, I would expect that they restore paving, tarred driveways and similar to be reinstated. It’s reasonable. Your thoughts?

    From my perspective, if they were to leave without reinstating the driveways (flower beds, lawns excluded), I would take exception to this.

  8. Greg Mahlknecht on

    Oh of course they must leave it like they found it. I don’t think anyone has ever questioned that.

    The problem is that a lot of property owners don’t want fibre deployed past them at all, they think it’s their verge and they can stop people doing anything on it.

  9. Greg Mahlknecht on

    That’s Link Africa doing that? They’re also doing my area. They also drill under roads and driveways instead of digging them up. Apart from hitting a few water pipes and electricity cables (which is unavoidable in this kind of project), they’ve been very non-invasive.

    It hasn’t changed Telkom’s mind, though – they’re still deploying on poles in nearby suburbs.

  10. Andrew Fraser on

    There are some operators (Telkom and Fibrehoods) doing this, but it has some disadvantages. The advantage is that roll out is quicker, but the disadvantages include that the weight of the fibre cable has to be limited and this can reduce future proofing and redundancy. Also exposed fibre cables are… well, exposed. So wind, trees, birds and and poor drivers can damage either the cable itself or the poles that it is strung from. And it looks a bit ugly.

    Trenching is much more future proof and robust solution, and the isolated (because I don’t think it is as bad as the article makes out – possibly with the exception of the Blairgowrie situation) problems encountered don’t nullify this as the best solution.

    If operators follow a good procedure when trenching (X-raying for utilities, using microtrenching where allowed, and re-instating verges) complaints will be minimised.

  11. William Stucke on

    It’s not theirs. While many householders maintain the pavement outside their property, they cannot legally stop you from parking on it or digging it up. See my revised response above.

  12. Greg Mahlknecht on

    Yes thanks – I’m working with the FTTH guys, championing a roll-out in my area and that’s more or less what they told me – nice to have it confirmed from a neutral 3rd party.

  13. tongue in cheek on

    last year Feb Telkom dug up my pavement to lay fibre(I assume a sub-contractor was used) they trashed “my” pavement, and senselessly chopped 2 Aloe’s down. I went a tad pyrochlastic on them, but managed to save 1 Aloe.I’ll take the Noddy badge for saving the world 1 aloe at a time. I had absolutely no prior knowledge they were going to do this until my dogs went apesh*t at all the activity immediately outside their domain(wonder if apesh*t qualifies me as a Penny). So it appears Telkom uses the over or under ground methodology at whim, or lazy project managers are at play

© 2009 – 2020 NewsCentral Media