Copper replacement goes green

By Damaria Senne, ITWeb senior journalist
Johannesburg, 02 Aug 2007

UK-based Kabel-X is bringing its green copper replacement technology to SA, with Telkom scheduling a test pilot for the end of August.

Kabel-X Middle East and Africa announced it is establishing a presence in SA as a launch pad for its operations on the African continent. The company will be based in Johannesburg.

Kabel-X has patented technology, which it uses to replace copper cable with fibre optic cable, without digging holes in the ground. It makes the technology available to telecoms, power supply and railway operators through a licensing arrangement.

Speaking at a media briefing in Sandton yesterday, Kabel-X chairman Richard Baker said the company has begun discussions with a number of local services providers including Telkom, Neotel, Eskom and Transnet.

While Neotel was unable to consider the technology at this stage, Telkom is looking into the solutions and will begin two pilots at the end of August, he said. The pilots will take place in Mayfair and City Deep, in Johannesburg, where Telkom has underground copper cables that are more than 40 or 50 years old, he said.

It's not clear yet which portion of its copper infrastructure Telkom will replace with fibre optic cable if the pilot is successful.


Baker said the technology saves up to 80% of copper replacement costs, as compared to conventional copper replacement methods, as there are no excavation costs.

In the city, the copper is replaced by using manholes, while in the country small holes would have to be dug to gain access.

Copper prices have risen so steeply that revenue generated from resale will significantly reduce replacement costs, he says. If a company has enough copper in the ground, the replacement could work out to be free, he says.

Official figures show there is over 100 billion metres of buried copper cable around the world, most of it having been laid between 20 and 100 years ago, Kabel-X says.

Of this network, it is estimated that some 30% to 50% will ultimately be converted from a copper base to a fibre optic base. That is up to 50 billion metres that is to be converted.

"We believe that in a country of SA's size, there is approximately 160 000 km of copper cable and at least 50 000 km of it must be upgraded to fibre optic if government is going to deliver on its various eGovernment initiatives," says Iain Giffen a shareholder, director and regional CEO of Kabel-X Middle East and Africa.

Baker notes that fibre optic cable has no intrinsic value, reducing its risk to theft. This reduces costs associated with cable theft for companies like Telkom. Earlier this year, Telkom said it spends R100 million on security measures against copper theft.

Kabel-X says it's already working to secure a black economic empowerment partner, and will make an announcement very soon.