Johannesburg, 24 Oct 2023
Bradley Bekker, General Manager (GM) at FNO, Evotel, chatted with two internet service providers (ISPs), RocketNet and Vodacom – represented by Warren Thomas, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer (CSMO) at RocketNet, and Tyrone Smith, Executive Department Head: Fibre to the Home (FTTH) Service Delivery at Vodacom – in a podcast that deals with the roles and responsibilities of fibre network operators (FNOs) and ISPs: The roles of FNOs vs ISPs.
The podcast centres on how the ISPs operate within the fibre industry landscape and how the relationships between the FNOs and ISPs interlink, with the aim of identifying how Evotel, as an FNO, can better support ISPs. Below we look at who's who, transparency and possible greater FNO/ISP collaborations.
It is apparent that there is still confusion among customers about what the roles and responsibilities are for FNOs and ISPs, and they need to understand the difference and the role each party plays in the customer's journey.
Bekker, in short, explains that as an FNO, Evotel's main responsibility is to enable ISPs to provide data services to end-users on a fast and secure fibre network infrastructure or network. “We deploy and maintain the fibre network, including doing installations into the homes. Thereafter, end-user customers are looked after by the ISPs. We see the FNOs as a support function for the ISPs to enable them to be able to deliver a service to end-users that exceed their expectations.”
Bekker, Thomas and Smith all agree that, in reality, FNOs should not be dealing with end-user consumer customers, as that is the job of the ISPs. The FNO should only be dealing with the ISP when there are performance and speed issues or faults on the fibre line.
“For the FNO, it is a bit tricky because at times the FNO wants to get involved in customer queries, concerns and challenges and kind of has to play a middleman type of role. However, over the next few years, we would really like to see us start handing over a lot more to the ISPs – enabling and supporting them more than we have – allowing them to really service the end-user to their best capability,” says Bekker.
The goal seems to be to put the FNO and ISP minds together and create an environment where the end-user ultimately wins. It has always been the goal of the FNO to ensure the delivery of a reliable and affordable fibre service and grow it going forward.
Says Thomas from RocketNet: “The FNO is the foundation of this ecosystem. Without you, there'd be no us (ISPs). The FNO portion is the physical fibre line into the home that would connect to the optical network terminal (ONT) box on the wall inside the home. From there, the ISP comes into play and manages the service from the router perspective, running all across that physical infrastructure, providing the internet services to the customer and the international breakout and services on top of that.”
Without FNOs and ISPs working hand in hand, there would be no internet or internet services to the home across a fibre network.
“Who would have known deploying a fibre network could actually change people's lives to the extent that it has? As an FNO, there is joy in bridging the digital divide, and it's good to know that the FNOs and ISPs share that same sentiment – to ensure the internet is accessible to as many end-users and homes as possible because the future is online.
“Our primary role is to make sure we get customers connected. After you, as the FNO, connect the physical line to the home, customers should only interact with us as the ISP. The issue is that they interact with both of us, and they are now our responsibility, and we have to manage their expectations. We have to manage everything around the customer,” Vodacom's Smith clarifies.
Where do ISPs see gaps and opportunities for FNOs to provide better support to ISPs and where can we make improvements?
Thomas again highlighted that when there are actual physical faults on the fibre line, it is the FNO's job to find the fault and correct it. When this happens, the ISP and FNO must be in regular contact regarding updates and repairs on the fault until the downed line is up and running again and the issue is resolved. He, however, stresses that in these cases, customers should still be contacting the ISP and not the FNO. Though the FNO deals with the physical infrastructure faults, the ISP remains the first port of call for the customer, and the customer should trust that they are dealing with the FNO and that the FNO is fixing the line based on service level agreements (SLAs).
Says Smith: “We do own the customer. So we wouldn't expect the FNO to do anything on the customer level when it comes to dealing with issues and customer queries.”
Collaboration and transparency
From a purely sales perspective, Smith would like to see the ISP be more involved from the start when FNOs are installing fibre. “How can we get our sales teams out there soon enough? Get those sales, and then capture that customer. We see a lot of opportunities and more collaboration. Collaborative efforts from a sales and marketing perspective, getting ISPs and FNOs together earlier.”
Bekker agrees and notes that it would be better because both ISP and FNO are chasing the same end-users, so why not do that collaboratively? “There are big cost savings for both, and the combined marketing and sales budgets from ISPs and FNOs give everyone a lot more reach and firepower to be able to go and connect more areas.
“I would love to see a lot more co-branded initiatives. I definitely agree in terms of being proactive. One thing that we're trying to do is enable ISPs to pick up on customer queries a lot quicker as well and be more transparent,” Bekker adds.
According to Bekker, Evotel wants to address the noise on social media regarding connectivity issues and, together with ISPs, be proactive in communications. As soon as a line goes down, a customer should be sent a proactive message to say: "We see your ONT is down, is there an issue?" He says that giving ISPs that information will make them aware of what is happening on the FNO's network. “We really need to give ISPs a view of our network – the status and the growth. There's a lot more transparency needed. With transparency comes a collaborative synergy that will benefit everyone.”
Thomas says communication is key across the board for all their existing and new subscribers. He notes that RocketNet is investing a lot of time and money in finding ways to best support customers across various channels and across software platforms.
RocketNet currently has an app that automatically self-diagnoses a customer's WiFi and router, and the customer then just sends them a ticket. The tech team on the back end can already see about 80% of what's going on and what is happening, which can help the customer diagnose problems.
“It's those sorts of systems that help us find better ways to communicate with our customers. It is exactly what you're touching on, which would be a first prize – imagine your ISP lets you know that your fibre is off before they even experience a problem,” Thomas notes.
Those are the sorts of future collaborative engagements that RocketNet believes should be worked on in terms of moving the customer's experience forward. It should rather be the ISP informing the customer that something is wrong ("this is what we're seeing") instead of customers calling the ISP and asking questions and wanting answers.
“Between ISPs and FNOs, communication is something that could be increased to make everyone's life easier, which in the long run will help drive sales,” Thomas states.
Vodacom's Smith also believes that increased collaboration between ISPs and FNOs is important and would benefit everyone, especially the end customer. He, however, noted that collaboration should start sooner in the process and, from a sales perspective, even start as FNOs begin building fibre infrastructure in new areas. Smith believes that if ISPs and FNOs work together on sales and marketing from an earlier stage, it will ensure greater sign-ups and get more people connected to fibre in general.
It is therefore quite clear that FNOs and ISPs are working towards greater collaboration in the fibre industry to make communication clearer and to grow and get more consumers connected. Fibre is, after all, for everyone.