If reliable, high-speed connectivity is what you seek, then fibre is the only way to go, according to Dark Fibre Africa

‘Fibre is the foundation of digitisation. It is necessary to drive forward e-commerce and the distribution of video, audio, rich content and other media,’ says Reshaad Sha, chief strategy officer of open-access optical fibre connectivity provider Dark Fibre Africa (DFA).

‘It is perhaps more critical to Africa than anywhere else, as the population of the continent is demographically young. Since the youth are much more comfortable when it comes to adopting new technologies, they are one of the key demographics seeking the richer content,’ he says. Sha believes that fibre offers numerous advantages over traditional telecoms channels, which rely on copper cables for transmission.

‘Copper’s speed and reliability have proven to be less than ideal for the demands of today’s consumers and businesses. The possible transmission speed of optical fibre far exceeds that of copper.

‘It is not vulnerable to electromagnetic interference from sources such as radio, cellular signals, electricity, and lightning, and it has a minimum lifespan of 20 years.’

The company’s network roll-out started in 2007 and to date, DFA has invested more than R6 billion and built close to 9 000 km of ducting infrastructure nationwide. Sha says the demand for fibre infrastructure is only going to increase as we move into the future: ‘High-speed connectivity is a key enabler of cloud applications, which businesses have started to adopt far more rapidly than ever before.’

According to Sha, the financial sector is a prime candidate for high-speed, high-quality, reliable connectivity. ‘Because of its sophisticated requirements, large financial institutions often decide to make provision for their own connectivity, so that they do not have to rely on service providers.’ In effect, they opt to become their own service provider to have full control over their network, he adds.

However, constructing one’s own optical fibre network is capital intensive, and as it is not the core of most people’s business, it makes greater financial and practical sense to lease optical fibre infrastructure from an open-access provider.

This is the route that FNB – one of SA’s four leading banks – chose to take. The FNB-DFA partnership resulted in ‘at least a tenfold increase in FNB’s bandwidth capability and significantly reduced telecoms costs’, says Sha. Back in 2007, access to high-speed fibre connectivity was a fairly new concept, and there were few providers offering the sort of services a large client such as FNB needed. To overcome this issue, the bank registered as an ISP and acquired an electronic communications network service licence, which allowed it to establish its own fibre network.

The financial institution then partnered with DFA to leverage its fibre infrastructure to connect its major campuses in the Johannesburg CBD, Selby, Randburg, Sandton and Fairlands areas via a high-speed network. On the back of this successful initiative, FNB expanded its fibre connectivity to its data recovery site in Pretoria, though it has since been working to connect each of the bank’s branches via its fibre network.

According to Andy Boden, senior network architect of Connect First Telecoms (Pty) Ltd, FNB’s network arm, the initial investment in the fibre infrastructure was substantial, though the bank has, over the six years since the project was implemented, seen significant cost-saving benefits. ‘It was cheaper for us to light up our own fibre network using DFA’s open-access fibre and infrastructure than to continue using the existing telecommunications model we had relied on to deliver bandwidth and make phone calls,’ says Boden.

The future is Fibre2

The financial sector is a prime candidate for high-speed, high-quality, reliable connectivity

By using a fibre network, FNB has reduced its latency, which typically impacts on the speed of the service delivered to the customer. This is particularly true for ATM transactions that need to be written and queried across various databases before money is released to the customer.

Furthermore, over the years, FNB has increased its bandwidth from two 1 Gbps lines to four 10 Gbps lines, giving it a significant connectivity boost. By partnering with DFA, FNB enjoys 99.98% uptime on the passive network alone.

Boden says the idea to roll out fibre-based broadband connectivity across the entire business was conceived more than eight years ago. ‘At the time, DFA was a small company that believed in our vision and worked with us to bring it to fruition. Today, FNB is winning local and global awards, and it is primarily based on the technology solutions that we have developed, while the investment we have made into our own fibre network enables us to deliver our innovations seamlessly,’ says Boden.

The future is Fibre

According to Sha: ‘DFA works closely with our customers to develop networking solutions that best suit their evolving requirements. Over the last two years, we have accelerated our solution offerings that focus on enterprise connectivity.

‘Over the next 12 months, we will continue along this path with a key focus on ensuring that our ISP customers are able to get to their customers faster and provide connectivity solutions, from low-bandwidth to ultra-high-speed requirements,’ he adds.

While DFA’s primary focus has always been the building and management of an open-access network in SA, it is currently evaluating a number of opportunities elsewhere on the continent. ‘Should our investment and other criteria be met, we may enter specific countries with a view to building open access wholesale networks,’ says Sha.

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