Fibre helps drive SA economy during COVID-19 pandemic

The current hard lockdown in South Africa is accentuating that access to fibre Internet has become as much a human right as any other commodity. Employees confined to their homes need Internet access to work from home and consequently, it is undeniable that high-speed, reliable and affordable Internet access is critical. 

The increasing demand for fibre at homes is spawned by users discovering progressively inventive ways to benefit from its use. The current need for faster and more reliable Internet is also emphasised by the fact that although South Africa is still in a fibre deployment phase, providers are rolling fibre at aggressive rates in a very competitive market. 

The fibre landscape is currently shaped by three essential aspects: speed, essential services and a focus on infrastructure. 

Faster speed 

The installation of a fibre connection inside a house may be deemed disruptive but offers a more reliable experience compared to current wireless technologies such as 4G, LTE, and 3G. The increasing demand for video streaming services and video conferencing solutions means that more home users need a wider range of bandwidth and wireless networks have difficulty in maintaining acceptable service levels. 

An added advantage of a fibre installation is that even if the home user is unsure about what line speed to get, an Internet service provider can upgrade it in real-time because it is a fixed-line connection.  

Given the increased demand for video streaming services and work from home solutions, and to mitigate some of the economic impact of the lockdown on South Africans due to the current COVID-19 crisis, some networks have doubled line speeds free of charge. This decision will ensure a consistent user experience and was mostly motivated by the anticipation that more people will be accessing fibre from home during the lockdown period. It is also predicted that some will use connectivity disproportionately and excessively, while other users may maintain their usual behaviour.  

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Essential service 

Telecommunication fibre providers are classified as an essential service and can continue running and maintaining networks. While home installations can continue, some of the practical aspects are still unclear and there is a need to balance what providers can do versus what is possible.  

The implication is that although contractors and suppliers are certified to provide services during the lockdown period, the entire supply chain needs to be operational. There is still a disparity in that contractors providing materials have been labelled as non-essential. 

For consumers concerned about safety during installation, it is critical to know that the safety precautions for employees and customers are prioritised when an installation is requested – the process is managed as safely as possible. 

Focus on infrastructure 

An added complexity in the fibre supply chain is the misperception between what fibre providers are responsible for and how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) come into play. The interdependence between fibre providers and IPSs is crucial. Fibre providers enable ISPs by providing the infrastructure. The current confusion highlights the need for user education but with increased use people may start to fully understand the benefits of having a connected home and a remote working environment. 

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