Fibre company Maziv is creating fibre entrepreneurs in the township of Alexandra through its Vuma Key product.
Yesterday, the company invited members of the media to Alexandra, abbreviated as Alex, for a tour of its pilot fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) project in one of South Africa’s oldest townships.
ITWeb tours Vuma’s pilot project to connect the Alexandra community with super-fast fibre internet.
Vuma Key is a product that provides 20Mbps uncapped fibre connectivity to underserviced communities for R100 per month.
Maziv, which is the parent company of fibre network operators Dark Fibre Africa and Vuma, started piloting the project in Alex last year. According to the firm, interest in Vuma Key has been growing ever since.
It has invested in a point-of-presence in Alex, from where it aerially supplies households with FTTH services.
Established in 1912, Alex is home to about 400 000 people.
Since the launch of the project, some community members have been roped in to become resellers and distributors of the Vuma Key product, and are already making a living from it.
Other landlords in the township, who sublet rooms to tenants, are also installing fibre in the rooms they rent out and bundle the rent fee together with internet charges.
Speaking to ITWeb during the tour, Pieter Uys, Community Investment Ventures Holdings (CIVH) chairman at Remgro, said from their experience in the township, the residents have shown keen interest in uncapped and fast internet.
JSE-listed Remgro-controlled CIVH is the majority shareholder in Maziv.
Internet for all
Said Uys: “We looked at various models to take the internet to everybody in South Africa, and if we can get the internet to areas such as Alex.
“To get internet, you can use WiFi, but that’s not good enough. You want each of the people in whatever dwelling they are in to have quality internet. Quality means it should be 20Mbps, meaning you can stream an HD video, and not just for one person but a few people in the family.”
He noted the internet must also be affordable. “It’s important that the internet must be uncapped for under R100 a month. This means we have made a difference.”
For Uys, the key difference is that the company has partnered with people in the community, who have become Vuma Key business partners.
“We have created a distributor service provider model where we get the people in the community to become our partners and resell the service. In that way, new entrepreneurs find a way of earning a living, working with us in the community.
“In the same way, they can split the internet, and that’s what I mean when I say we want to democratise the internet.
“If you look at fibre-to-the-home, which is the residential fibre, we started off with the Sandtons of the world.”
According to Uys, in those areas − the “leafy suburbs” − Vuma has passed over a million homes with fibre.
“Then we said let’s go down to the next level in the pyramid. That’s when we started connecting places like Mitchell’s Plain, Soweto and Vosloorus. There, we have another million homes that we have passed.
“Now, we are saying let’s go down to the bottom of the pyramid where people never had fibre, or good quality internet. This is what brought us to suburbs such as Alex. They’ve only had mobile data here to give them internet.
“We have gone through a year trialling to find out the right business model; to find out how to distribute it here. The key that we found is people want fast internet; they want at least 20Mbps in their house,” he added.
“Alex is still in the trial phase but if I look at Alex and other similar suburbs, there are at least another five million people that we can bring the internet to. That will make a difference to those people because we will be able to make them part of the economy – they can start a new business, they can work from home and the kids can do extra classes.”
Uys pointed out that the company has various kinds of customers in Alex. “We have customers that want their own internet, we’ve customers that share the service with others around them and we’ve also got customers that live in multi-dwelling units and each of them have the internet in their rooms.”
The crux of connectivity
Also speaking during the tour, Dietlof Mare, CEO of Vuma, said “key” means unlocking potential in the underserviced areas.
Said Mare: “We know that disposable income is scarce in some of the areas, and we needed to give a service that is able to compete with the leafy suburbs. So, we started with Alex and Khayelitsha. For under a R100 per month, you can get an uncapped, 20Mbps service.”
He believes with such a service, South Africa will be able to close the digital divide.
“But also importantly [we also want to] close the digital divide between us and the rest of the world. For us to compete, from an entrepreneurial side with the rest of the world, connectivity is super-critical.
“The quicker we can connect South Africa, the quicker we can close that digital divide with the rest of the world. We always say in 2030, that’s when the big digital difference will happen but there is not a lot of time for us in South Africa. I think speed to market is critical, and standing here in Alex makes me proud because we are getting a solution that works.
“It’s a solution that we are building on top of an open access model. ISPs [internet service providers] are working with it as it is a prepaid model. We are also creating a community distribution model,” said Mare.
An Alex resident making use of the service told ITWeb she was enjoying the internet connectivity.
“The speed is good enough. Before, we were using another service provider and we had problems with the network. But with this one, since last month, we never had a problem. I used to use mobile data but I prefer WiFi because it is unlimited. The network only goes down when there is load-shedding.”
She revealed that besides video streaming on her smart TV, she mainly uses Vuma Key to search for jobs. “With mobile data, you would use it now and it gets finished quickly.”
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