Fibre Internet is an incredible success story in South Africa. In response to the country’s growing demand, Linxcom has expanded its presence in this vibrant market. It’s a high growth industry, expanding 168.2% since 2015, according to communications regulator Icasa’s 2020 State of the ICT Sector report.
Even anecdotally, there is a lot of positive buzz. Many of the country’s networks are experiencing strong growth, and local streaming platforms can say the same. By late last year, Internet peering exchange NAPAfrica reported a 50% jump in traffic, indicative of a rising digital consumer class. Factor in demand coming from 5G and data centres, and fibre’s future looks bright.
But this also brings the industry to a delicate milestone. A businessman once related advice to me that he was offered many years ago by a chicken farm magnate. The successful farmer said that if you want to be content, get a small chicken farm, and build a massive chicken farm if you want to be rich. But avoid becoming a medium chicken farm — it costs too much and pays too little. The world, he explained, is littered with the ruins of medium chicken farms.
What do chickens have to do with fibre? Even though the fibre industry is booming, it’s still in its early days and far from what it ultimately can be. Icasa’s report estimates that there are 1.6 million FTTx subscriptions in South Africa, a bit paltry compared to the 53 million smartphone subscriptions. It’s not an equal comparison, considering that it’s easier for a person to have several mobile subscriptions than fixed-line arrangements. But the difference is still stark.
The answer to this gap sits outside of the major metro areas. Smaller cities, townships, regional hubs and sleepy corners of the country are still waiting for significant fibre access. The industry wants to connect those areas, but it poses a greater challenge and more risks than the metro fibre markets’ low-hanging fruit.
For fibre networks, the going is getting tougher, which is where Linxcom, with a successful history of supplying the world’s most advanced markets, can add valuable experience to the environment.
How to make fibre more viable for expansion
South Africa’s uneven socioeconomic distribution is a factor, as are its remarkable (and beautiful) distances. But these challenges aren’t insurmountable if networks can rely on suppliers who bring more to the table than just equipment.
Three things are necessary if we want the local fibre network market to grow and thrive. First is cost — operators need affordable equipment and services, such as cabling, backed by long-term warranties to ensure continual performance and low operational costs.
Second is use cases shaped to fit local requirements while capitalising on expensive lessons learnt elsewhere in the world. Fibre infrastructure component providers must bring best practice, international experience and proven examples to reduce deployment times and shape business models for the long game of rural fibre deployment.
The third is to walk the distance with fibre networks. Fibre is a long-term industry that has to manage investment returns and risks for many years to come. The industry has enough on its plate, so it needs supply-chain partners who can understand its challenges and support it for the long haul.
There is tremendous potential if South African networks can solve the challenge of connectivity outside major metros. The African continental free-trade area opens the doors for intra-African development and expansion.
Many African countries are in the same boat as us here on the southern tip: vast geographies with massive urban concentrations and rural spreads. We always talk about African solutions for Africa. Well, this is what the fibre industry can now develop.
Connecting those outside the major cities is a long-running challenge. But the fibre industry has many things in its favour: demand from consumers and businesses, and new technologies create an appetite for fixed-line connectivity that’s never been this ferocious. It’s not just about how the industry finds and reaches more customers. It’s a chance to develop business and risk models that can connect South Africa and Africa, while still delivering value and reducing network cost of ownership.
Linxcom has been active locally since 2019. Though founded in the UK, we have roots in South Africa through one of our founders. Consequently, Linxcom pays close attention to the South African fibre market, and we are growing our contribution to it. Moreover, our investment into the local market far exceeds a regional “arm” – rather, Linxcom South Africa is a fully fledged supplier, offering a full turnkey solution. Our vision for South Africa’s infrastructure growth is based on a fast-growing market that will need to overcome teething pains if it wants to reach the next stage.
Linxcom specialises in fibre-optic structured cabling, providing complete solutions for data centres, telecommunications, FTTx and data communications. Linxcom’s solutions are used in over 60 countries, supported by world-class logistics and industry-level certification (including ISO9001:2015) to ensure timely and reliable project delivery. We back our work through warranties of up to 25 years, and have been approved by international mobile operators, including DU (Dubai), Ooredoo and Etisalat. In South Africa, we’re approved by major fibre-optic network operators, Vumatel and Vodacom.
What do South African fibre providers need? Beyond compatible pricing and reliable products, they don’t want to reinvent the wheel. They want reliable knowledge, tested best practice, and suppliers committed to the journey, not just the sale. We are putting the Linxcom promise to the test by saying we offer what the market needs and do it better than our competitors. This is how we can collaborate with the South African fibre market.
Let’s not get stuck with medium chicken farms. Fibre can become one of South Africa’s biggest success stories. Linxcom is committed to being part of that story.
For more, visit Linxcom’s website.
- Zaid Mayat is Africa business development manager at Linxcom
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