Written by Riaan Nieuwoudt (LIFCO Telecoms Committee)
It is with great excitement that we would like to share with you that our residential area is currently receiving optical fibre infrastructure installation.
The purpose of this note is to educate people that might not know what optical fibre is, explain the advantages of fibre over copper transmission, and then further expand on the roll-out of the fibre in our areas.
If you’re not going to read to the end of this letter, please just understand one thing: Openserve and Huawei will require access to your property in the coming months, but only if there is a telephone mast on your property. Not granting them access will delay the project for the entire community, and ignite a peasant revolt.
What is Optical Fibre?
As you are probably already aware, you can send voice and data over copper cables. Your normal telephone cable consists of a copper pair, and it is also on which your ADSL (internet) is running. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that the same can be done wirelessly via radio waves when you use your cell phone.
Optical fibre is another method of transmitting data, but it is done by pulsing laser beams down a long narrow glass and plastic tube. As we all know by watching too many sci-fi movies, nothing is faster than the speed of light. This is currently (and will be for the foreseeable future) the fastest and most reliable way to transfer data when compared to other existing technologies. It is miles ahead of its closest competitors.
Benefits of Optical Fibre
So why should you care about having fibre if you already have copper? We’ll briefly list some advantages that we totally stole from other sources online :-)
- Property value: The value of your property increases by around 5-8% immediately. To make a comparison, would you buy a house that has a long drop/outhouse, or one that has sanitation? It’s the same difference, since you have advanced infrastructure running to your house. And yes, the difference is that big when going from copper to fibre.
- Speed: Fibre is light-years (pun intended) ahead of copper in terms of bandwidth (bandwidth is the term used to describe data transmission rate). Copper has long ago reached its limits, but we’re still finding ways to push fibre faster. ADSL’s maximum transmission speed is around 40 Mbps, while fibre to the home (FTTH) speeds can go up to 1 Gbps. Currently we’re looking at 100 Mbps, but the speeds will increase over the next couple of years while copper won’t get any faster.
- Greater distance due to lower attenuation: “Attenuation” is not a common word, but simplified greatly one can say that it is resistance per metre of cable, which degrades the intensity of the transmitted signal. Copper is very susceptible to this, due to the fact that electric signals produce magnetic fields. The higher the data rate, the stronger the magnetic field, and the higher the resistance. If you have, for instance, a 10 Mbps line, you have probably noticed that your download speed is sitting at much lower than that. Attenuation is responsible for this, along with noise on the line. The image below shows the speed of ADSL vs. distance of the cable.
Attenuation in fibre is only caused by bends in the cable, splices (where fibre is joined) and connectors. Attenuation in fibre It is significantly lower than in copper. Maximum distance of copper runs for ADSL should probably not exceed 3-4km before your speed drops to that of the SA Postal Service, whereas fibre can be run up to 40km (depending on the type of fibre and transmission equipment). Thus, if you order a 100 Mbps line, you will get all of it.
- Immunity and reliability: Related to the previous point, since transmitting data over copper cable produces magnetic fields, nearby magnetic fields from other cables can greatly disturb the transmission in terms of generating noise.
Since fibre uses light, it is not affected in any way by electromagnetic interference (EMI). You can even run fibre through sewerage pipes and water, without worrying about any leaks to earth affecting the signal.
- Theft: Unlike copper, fibre has no value once ripped out of the ground. When thieves steal fibre, it is because they mistook it for copper. The reason for this is that fibre can easily be damaged if bent too much, and joining (splicing) two fibre cores requires very expensive splicing machines. Criminals don’t have these, and no one will buy broken cables.
- Security: Though I doubt that this is a major concern to anyone, it is impossible to tap into a fibre cable without breaking it entirely. You can thus rest assured that no one is listening in to your Skype conversation with your grandma.
Who is Rolling out the Fibre?
The infrastructure roll-out is being done by Telkom. They have a division for their fibre named ‘Openserve’. Openserve uses contractors to lay the fibre and do all the grunt work. For our area, this contractor is Huawei. Openserve only comes out to quality test the laid fibre, and has nothing to do with the actual running and laying of the cables.
As Telkom is involved, there are some things to consider:
- Telkom is doing this without any type of commitment from our community whatsoever, while the roll-out will cost a good couple of million. If you want Vumatel, MTN, or whoever to do a fibre roll-out in the area, we’ll need to get a commitment of around 30-40% of the households in the area before anything will happen (800 households will have to sign contracts before even one shovel will hit the dirt), in order to ensure decent return on investment. On top of that, should they learn that Telkom is already rolling out fibre, it becomes even less attractive for them to do so.
- Telkom doesn’t have to be your service provider. You can choose any Internet Service Provider (ISP) that you have on your current ADSL service to be your fibre ISP. Telkom is merely supplying the infrastructure, the same as it works with telephone line/ADSL currently.
- You can have your telephone run on Telkom fibre, and keep your existing number. I don’t know the exact details, but this is definitely on offer.
- We would have the number of the area manager to phone directly when there are outages in the area. This way, we don’t have to phone the Telkom (non-)support centre.
How is the Fibre Roll-Out Progressing?
We have met with representatives from both Openserve and Huawei earlier, and had a discussion of the project. Here’s the gist of the conversation:
- The current plan is to be completed with the project by middle of March, but bad things happen and delays are inevitable. From there, allow six weeks for them to process the backlog of orders.
- The previous site manager resigned end of last year, a new one has started on 23 January 2017, and has to reassess what has been done and what is the next step.
- The entire project will be completed before even a single person will be connected to the network. They have tried in the past to connect people as streets come online, but that caused massive problems for them and the customers. That’s where the majority of complaints came from.
- The fibre will be wound around existing telephone cables, and thus no trenching and digging up of pavements and driveways will occur. The initial trenching up Fredenharry and Witwatersrand was for different purposes, bringing in the main fibre cables which could not be wound around the telephone cables.
- Thus, if you have a telephone mast in your property (whether you have ordered fibre or not), you should prepare that they will require access to your property. I will stay in contact with the area manager, and attempt to have the streets where installation is due next, notified of such via our Whatsapp groups. If you do not allow them entry, you delay the project for everyone. Don’t be ‘that’ guy. Inform your grumpy neighbour who is not in contact with the community.
- The boards of trustees for complexes need to sign a consent form, allowing access, which has to be sent back to Openserve. This will be supplied by enquiring at LIFCO.
My aim is to provide a map at least once a month, showing which areas have been completed, which ones are currently being worked on, which ones are next, and which remain in the stone age. I hope to have this “soon”.
Openserve and Huawei were very keen to meet with us, and urged for this kind of interaction so that information can be passed between them and our community during the project. We plan to have frequent meetings with the area roll-out manager from Huawei to get updates, and to discuss any concerns raised by any members of community.
Thank you for reading all of this. We believe it is something to be really excited about, and great for our community to have.