South African home broadband users will soon be able to get 10Gbit/s fibre thanks to a new offering from Vumatel, which will be commercially available after a short trial period.
The Remgro-controlled Vumatel has announced the 10Gbit/s trial, which it is conducting in partnership with Internet service provider Cool Ideas, as it celebrates rolling out fibre-optic broadband cables past a million homes in South Africa.
In an exclusive interview with TechCentral on Thursday, Vumatel CEO Dietlof Mare said the 10Gbit/s plan will be aimed at a small subset of the home broadband market and is designed for technically astute early adopters.
To put the 10Gbit/s speed in context, it’s 10 times faster than any other fibre product available in South Africa and 100 times faster than a speedy 4G/LTE mobile connection. Until now, Vumatel’s offerings have topped out at (a still very quick) 1Gbit/s.
To take advantage of the service, however, consumers will need a router, optical network terminal (from Vumatel) and a computer capable of supporting 10Gbit/s. They’ll also need to wire their homes with 10Gbit/s Ethernet as Wi-Fi hotspots – even the latest ones utilising the latest 802.11ax standard, also known as Wi-Fi 6 – are not capable of delivering such high speeds.
The market for the service may be small, but between 4% and 5% of Vumatel’s customer base is already on its 1Gbit/s offering, according to Mare.
The trial with Cool Ideas will last about a month and will soon be expanded to include other large Internet service providers. A commercial 10Gbit/s offering could be in the market in about four weeks’ time. Pricing and uplink speeds must still be determined in consultation with Vumatel’s ISP partners, Mare said. The network is capable of delivering a symmetrical 10Gbit/s connection, meaning the uplink can be as fast as the downlink.
The trial will be used to determine the impact of introducing a 10Gbit/s plan on South Africa’s Internet ecosystem, including at NAPAfrica, the traffic peering point hosting at data centre operator Teraco where ISPs, telecommunications operators, content providers and other companies interconnect with one another. Mare said that ultimately it will be up to ISPs to determine how they utilise the product, including whether they provide 10Gbit/s service internationally or restrict it to local traffic, as some have done with Vumatel’s 1Gbit/s plan.
Mare said launching a commercial 10Gbit/s home fibre offering is designed to showcase the capabilities of Vumatel’s network. It will only be available in areas where the company has deployed an active Ethernet network – that’s about 60% of its network and is typically in areas where Vumatel has trenched fibre. The rest of the network, which is mainly inherited from acquisitions, uses GPON technology and the 10Gbit/s plan will not be available in those areas.
Mare said the launch will be a first for a fibre network in South Africa and will put Vumatel “in front of our competitors” and will “demonstrate the scalability and resilience of our network”.
The trial with Cool Ideas will be internal only and not open to the ISP’s customer base. The first 10Gbit/s link will be installed in the Johannesburg home of Cool Ideas co-founder Paul Butschi in the coming days.
On passing a million homes with fibre, Mare said it’s a significant milestone for Vumatel. It plans to grow that to between 1.4 million and 1.5 million homes by the end of the year. Most of that growth will come from deployments in secondary cities and underserved areas. He declined to disclose the “attachment rate”, or the percentage of homes that have taken up services where Vumatel fibre is available. However, in some suburbs, the attachment rate is over 80%.
Mare said South Africa’s fibre market remains underdeveloped and that, eventually, fibre network operators could serve between 70% and 80% of homes in the country.
Asked about recent aggressive fibre price cuts by rival Openserve – the wholesale division of Telkom – Mare said Vumatel is not going to react. “We don’t think … a race to the bottom on prices is the strategy we should take.”
However, he said Vumatel will ensure it stays competitive. That means providing value and a good customer experience. “The focus is on giving superior customer service at a price point that makes sense.” — © 2021 NewsCentral Media
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