Hands up for fibre to the home

June 30th, 2015, Published in Articles: EngineerIT


When I see the leafy suburbs and gated communities all putting their hands up for fibre-to-the home, it seems to me that the broadband-demand giant is fast waking from its slumber.

Andre Hoffman

André Hoffman

I get a sense that this is a similar to 1994 when the first mobile phone networks started in South Africa and we all looked bemused from the sidelines as only the rich, the famous and the politicians could afford these mobile “bricks”, and we weren’t quite sure how this new fad would take on. Now we all have at least one SIM card device and some have multiple smart devices which we cannot seem to do without.

Of course the medium of how broadband gets to us varies in any given geography and time of day and I guess what we are doing at any point in time. That said, optical fibre is certainly the medium of preference for a reliable and high quality, relatively unrestricted flow of bi-directional broadband services to fixed points in our businesses and homes.

What we hope is that we do not perpetuate the “Matthew effect” (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer) and only get high speed, high quality broadband to the already well-serviced areas. Or to put this another way we should not underestimate the value of broadband in the rural areas and in our townships where many of our people live.

I know the hard-core business case arguments I have heard them all ad nauseum. I’m wondering if all the accountants lived in the townships or rural areas would we get a change of priorities?

I think we suffer from the three to five year syndrome:  what is that, you ask? One would expect national and local government to enable anything that stimulated the national economy and thereby helped the fiscus. However instead the various ICT stakeholder ministries vie for political points over any election period and seem to have a “get elected at any cost” mindset – hence can seldom set in place policy that is carried through from one minister or election period to the next.

Private enterprise is not much better, with shareholders and investors seeking quick returns and mitigating for risks in a highly competitive environment. They seem to have a three to five year return on investment imperative that limits their capacity to take any kind of longer view.

The upshot is that this system favours the first mover and leaves little room for new entrants and when you view this from a global perspective it does not bode well for the emerging economies like our own. The rich get richer and the marginalised – well they have to find other ways to close the economic gap, if at all.

If we are serious about catching up with the developed world we have to think differently about this problem. We have to build a foundation that looks beyond immediate ARPU that supports a three to five year business case view and looks systemically at the whole ecosystem and the economic imperatives of a sold broadband enabling platform and its national benefits. We have to put aside inter-ministerial agendas and we have to ask ourselves what is in the best interests of South Africa Inc.?

Easier said than done.

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