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Apr 06, 2012

Services demand to drive fibre optics roll-out

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Demand for commercial and public services will increase the roll-out of fibre-optic cables throughout urban areas and between cities, says subsurface pipeline company Trenchless Technologies managing member Sam Efrat.

“There is continued impetus to connect commercial centres to each other and to connect important branches and resources of companies to their own networks using fibre optics. Further, companies and governments are starting to realise that it is important to share critical resources, such as high-speed telecommuni- cations infrastructure, for future growth,” he says.

Africa, though, will continue to see the growth and expansion of both wireless and mobile technologies to supply last-mile connectivity to most people. However, in developed and urban areas, where people and companies are concentrated, demand for high-speed broadband connectivity will increase the demand for fixed line, or fibre-optic, services, he says.

He cites the examples of Cairo, in Egypt, and Lagos, in Nigeria, where trenchless pipeline construction techniques have been used to install telecommunications infrastructure and utility infrastructure, such as water and sewer pipes, in dense urban areas where trenches would cause too much disruption.

Further, the number of users, as well as economies of scale, in dense urban areas is needed to jump-start demand and, thus, improve the commercial reasons for installing high-speed telecommunications infrastructure.

The roll-out of long-haul fibre-optic links between cities and commercial centres is continuing steadily, says Efrat, adding that it is impossible to network the last-mile using fibre optics because the capital outlay is too large at present. This is where the use of existing copper cables, operated by JSE-listed network operator Telkom, will become important.

“Many companies have developed their own fibre-optic networks [in anticipation of] the unbundling of the local loop, or last mile, which will enable them to provide services directly to individuals and companies.

“However, the longer Telkom waits to unbundle the local loop, the less impact it will have because data speeds will increase to where copper cables will no longer be useful. This will create the impetus for companies to install fibre connections to the home and for the use of new technologies and services. Also, the lack of local loop accessibility is reducing South Africa’s potential growth and general competitiveness.”

Further, the use of networks in urban environs will depend on their reliability and effectiveness, increasing the commercial reasons to swiftly unbundle the local loop, because good networks must be laid out to provide the services and speeds demanded, notes Efrat.

Meanwhile, the future potential for trenchless construction techniques will come from last-mile connectivity where, after fibre-optic ring networks around cities have been built, fibre-optic connections to homes will provide high-speed Internet connectivity and telephone services with the least excavation.

“Directional drilling is one method of connecting the network to the home with the least excavation, because one only has to excavate the launching area, and then expose the cable at certain points along the way, such as at manholes from where cables can be laid to a number of homes, and so that operators can maintain the cables, from these manhole access points.”

Trenchless Technologies generates between 20% and 30% of its turnover from directional drilling, but foresees this increasing to 50%, owing to demand for fibre-optic installations.

“We project that the fibre-optic market will double in size every three years and will be an integral part of future communications. Further, the end point use of fibre-optic networks will be in the form of wireless and handheld devices, which means that the potential uptake of these networks, and copper-cable networks when the local loop is unbundled, will be far broader. Wireless end-point connectivity can also be applied in education, at schools and business, as well as for critical response services, such as emergency medical services and the police.

“Effective and efficient networks can also be used to set up public service kiosks in different areas where people can interact with the government, pay for services and access disparate government department functions from a single location,” he explains.

Meanwhile, as the Internet becomes more refined, a myriad of commercial and governmental services that have not been developed yet will emerge and take precedent, he notes.

“It is important to realise that the more shared resources and resultant sharing we have, the more services we will effectively be able to offer. Service provision the world over is one of the biggest employers, but most large companies require high-quality internal and external communication, making the network a valuable asset that impacts on companies beyond their profitability.”

A strong fibre backbone will provide significant potential for social upliftment. The ability to provide Internet accessibility to a large part of the population will impact on a country’s ability to educate, connect, service and grow in ways not yet even conceived of, he enthuses.

“Further, fibre-optic cables are futureproof, providing sufficient data capacity for the foreseeable future,” he concludes.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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