Vumatel makes U-turn on fibre price increases

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Fibre network operator Vumatel says it has suspended all wholesale price increases that were initially communicated to its clients, and this will remain in effect until government announces the end of the COVID-19 state of disaster.

Vumatel faced criticism in some quarters after it emerged the company had notified its clients, Internet service providers (ISPs), of a price increase.

Responding to the concerns, Vumatel says it engaged with its ISP stakeholders at the end of 2019 “to advise a nominal price increase on a number of line speeds, with a decrease anticipated on higher line speeds. These would have come into effect on 1 April 2020.”

However, Vumatel says: “We have undertaken to suspend all wholesale price increases that were initially communicated at the time. This will remain in effect until such time as the Disaster Management Act is halted.”

In a statement to ITWeb, the operator says: “On 20 March 2020, we announced our commitment to alleviating some of the connectivity pressure that homes will face due to the increased bandwidth demands of remote working, online learning and also content streaming services, and implemented a line speed upgrade initiative.”

The company explains that effective 1 April to end June, Vumatel, in partnership with its ISP partners, has upgraded the line speeds of all end-users on its network, at no additional cost.

“For example, users that are currently on a 20Mbps line will be upgraded to 50Mbps, ensuring a seamless connectivity and usage experience. This upgrade has been implemented across all line speeds, except the 1Gbps service, as this is currently the maximum line speed available in the market,” it says.

Furthermore, Vumatel says it has waived line rental fees for new orders placed and delivered during April, for up to two months thereafter.

“This applies to ISPs that are participating in this initiative and it is mandatory for these cost savings to be passed on to end-users. This means that new end-user customers and ISPs will receive free line rental over the applicable period.”

Last month, president Cyril Ramaphosa declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national disaster, which was followed by a national lockdown. With the lockdown, most people are now working from home, which is throttling broadband services across the country.

As a result, Vumatel says it has seen an increase in demand for reliable, high-speed fibre connectivity as more South Africans work and learn from home.

The lockdown has placed huge pressure on users’ available bandwidth, with many having to continue with work – including using online or cloud-based applications, downloading and uploading huge work files, and participating in numerous video conference calls.

Vumatel says: “Together with our ISPs, we have noticed a significant increase in usage in the first week of the lockdown, but this has settled. The biggest change we have noted is that where we historically had a peak in usage from 6pm to 10pm on the consumer network, this is flattening for most of the day.”

It explains the ICT industry has been classified as an essential service provider “and as such, we will continue operating during the national lockdown”.

It adds: “Installations and maintenance will continue for the duration of the lockdown period, and we have put in place stringent safety and precautionary measures to ensure our teams and end-users are safe. These measures are aligned with best practices as prescribed by the World Health Organisation and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.”

Vumatel says while it will continue providing services during the lockdown, it will place the safety of its employees first.

“This is an unprecedented time and we are committed to ensuring we can play our part in keeping our end-users connected, without compromising the safety of our partners and teams.”

Vumatel, which pioneered fibre-to-the-home in South Africa in 2014, says the demand for fibre will continue beyond the COVID-19 lockdown.

“There will always be a need for high-speed, reliable connectivity and as more people adjust to the possibility of working and learning from home, we anticipate this trend will continue, but not at the current scale.

“We do believe this will fundamentally change how people work moving forward, as with the right connectivity and productivity tools, working from home can be very effective,” it says.

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