Durban’s fibre-optic rethink

2013-11-18 00:00

DURBAN Metro’s commercial fibre-optic cable system is being muscled out of its own backyard by national operators, says an industry analyst.

Rolf Schmidt, a former telecommunications adviser to the metro, said the metro’s MetroConnect fibre-optic cable network is being slowly pushed out of the arena by aggressive commercial players, red-tape and slow decision making.

What makes this so significant is that the primary reason MetroConnect was launched in 2008 was to offer affordable data services to city-run businesses and to drive local economic development.

According to the city, they are “reacting” to the changing market dynamics and are currently working on a new selling model to compete in what is becoming a crowded space that includes names such as Darkfibre Africa, Telkom and Neo­tel.

“MetroConnect is reactive rather than proactive and it needs to become organised in order to not lose its own market to foreign-based firms. Their system was not originally built for the purpose of commercial use and can be found anywhere there is water or electricity. Commercial enterprises build their networks on commercial demand focusing on business and industrial nodes. Bureaucracy is slowing it down,” said Schmidt.

The city’s ICT senior manager in networks and telecoms, Emmanuel Pillay, said MetroConnect will change its direction next year to meet the changing competitive landscape.

“We are in the process of developing a new model on how to package MetroConnect. This should be finalised by next year,” said Pillay.

He said their primary objective is not profit, but economic development.

In the early 2000s, the council embarked on a strategy to turn Durban into a smart city. As availability and quality of ICT infrastructure was the prerequisite for achieving this goal, the city started laying a next-generation fibre-optic cable network throughout the municipal area.

In October 2008, the city launched MetroConnect, an initiative aimed at selling the excess capacity on its network to Internet service providers (ISPs) at a wholesale price.

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