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New report uncovers disparities in SA’s fibre landscape

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 15 Mar 2024
SA has seen a significant increase in fibre deployments in recent years.
SA has seen a significant increase in fibre deployments in recent years.

The majority of South African consumers have no choice when it comes to fibre service providers, with more than half living in areas where only one fibre operator provides a service.

This is one of the key findings of the open access network mapping project, conducted by the Internet Service Providers’ Association of SA (ISPA) in partnership with mapping specialist 28East.

The report delves into SA’s fibre landscape, highlighting that some areas are dominated by only a few fibre operators, while some places have no fibre connectivity at all.

An analysis of the overlap between the maps of two-dozen open access networks indicates that nationally, 33 million people (54% of South Africa’s population) live where at least one fibre operator provides a service, while 27 million citizens (46% of the population) are not yet covered.

ISPA chairperson Sasha Booth-Beharilal explains that of those consumers who have at least one fibre network operator providing a service, more than a third have no choice.

“This means that these consumers are not able to enjoy the pricing and quality benefits of infrastructure or service-based competition. ISPA believes the study gives a good high-level picture of the state of fibre-based internet access in South Africa.”

According to the report, the Western Cape and Gauteng lead the race for fibre coverage, and residents in these provinces also have the most choice in which operator they can select for connectivity services.

Citizens of Limpopo and the Northern Cape are the least well-served by fibre providers.

Comparing coverage against household income, the report states: “There has been a clear focus by operators to cover the highest-earning quintile of households, while both coverage and competition for lower income households lag behind.”

Choice of open access network in each province based on population. (Source: ISPA)
Choice of open access network in each province based on population. (Source: ISPA)

Over the last few years, SA has seen a significant increase in fibre deployments; however, townships and rural areas remain the most underserved communities.

The ISPA report notes that even among high-income households, choice of fibre connectivity can be limited, with only 75% of top quintile households able to choose from several providers.

Fibre deployments are mainly driven by renewed investment in the rollout of access fibre in the residential segment, as well as rapid deployment in second-tier cohorts and selected middle- to lower-income, high-density urban areas, it adds.

ISPA acknowledges some limitations in the data used for the study, saying that only networks that publish mapping data could be used. This means some consumers may still be able to purchase fibre services from closed network operators in regions where no open access networks operate.

According to BMIT’s South African Broadband Report 2023, the country has seen unprecedented investment in residential fibre in recent years, with an escalating tussle for customers among fibre and 5G fixed wireless access providers.

BMIT explains that the competitive intensity in the most lucrative suburbs resulted in overbuild – where operators deployed fibre in streets where another operator had already passed.

“An estimated 25% of homes are already overbuilt. However, the most significant growth in the last few years has been in the next tier of metro suburbs and secondary cities and many towns, although 2022 saw a slowdown by a few key players, albeit temporarily,” the research firm says.

BMIT anticipates the wholesale fixed access market will reach a 9.1% compound annual growth rate by 2027, and will overtake mobile facilities in revenue.