Vumatel to roll out low-cost home fibre in the Cape Flats - TechCentral

Vumatel to roll out low-cost home fibre in the Cape Flats

Vumatel CEO Dietlof Mare

Vumatel has started rolling out fibre-to-the-home broadband in Mitchell’s Plain, a sprawling suburb in the Cape Flats outside Cape Town, while at the same time it is finally gearing up to begin a roll-out of fibre in the impoverished Johannesburg suburb of Alexandra.

Speaking to TechCentral in a podcast interview on Monday, Vumatel CEO Dietlof Mare said the company has already broken ground in Mitchell’s Plain. It has run fibre past a thousand homes, with plans for this number to reach 42 000 soon. The first customers have already been connected, Mare said.

The uncapped service, which offers 20Mbit/s download and 10Mbit/s upload speeds, costs R399/month inclusive of line rental charges and Internet access. The company worked with several large Internet service providers as part of the proof of concept in the suburb and is now inviting all ISPs to participate in providing uncapped Internet access.

Vumatel plans to offer only one speed option to Mitchell’s Plain residents — 20Mbit/s — but has the option to increase this down the line, to as much as 100Mbit/s. It has done this, Mare said, to keep costs to an absolute minimum by reducing complexity. However, the fibre is trenched through the streets of Mitchell’s Plain and into people’s homes. Indeed, overhead fibre is prohibited under a municipal by-law. The Internet connections offered are dedicated and offer the same performance Vumatel 20Mbit/s customers get in wealthier suburbs, Mare said.

Smaller property sizes also helped Vumatel keep costs down. “If you look at the home fronts in these areas, they are 10m long. In Parkhurst (in Johannesburg), you have a 30m or 35m house front,” he said.

The company worked closely with the community in developing the project and has contracted residents — many of them unemployed — to sell the solution. “The demand is there; the need is there.”

Prepaid fibre

The service is being offered on a prepaid basis — either on a rolling 28-day basis, where it is renewed automatically, or manually, where residents can choose to use a voucher to enter a Pin code when they want to activate the service or keep it running. He said Vumatel is the first to offer prepaid fibre in this way in South Africa.

On the Alexandra roll-out plan, which TechCentral first reported on in 2017, Mare said Vumatel is still “fully committed” to the project, with roll-out expected to begin within months.

“There was a little bit a delay with the municipality in (securing) the way leaves (to deploy the fibre), and a bit of a delay from a technology perspective on our side in terms of how we were going to do it. This is because it’s totally a different model. But we are going ahead, and we will do it very quickly.”

The company still plans to offer an uncapped service for less than R100/month — previously, it was targeting R89/month — and will work with entrepreneurs in the area to on-sell Wi-Fi access to residents.

“It will not be the same model as Mitchell’s Plain. It will be a little more contended,” Mare said. “We are still testing it, but within the next two to three months we will have a very good solution on the table.”

Vumatel is also looking at Soweto as a market opportunity. Rival Frogfoot recently announced plans to deploy infrastructure in the sprawling township south-west of Johannesburg, but Mare believes the size of Soweto will allow for multiple home fibre operators to build networks. “We will go there — there are so many houses to do.” — © 2019 NewsCentral Media

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