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According to the FTTx Council, new-build premises should come standard equipped as fibre-ready

Johannesburg, 26 May 2020
Read time 5min 00sec
Juanita Clark, Chief Executive, FTTX Council Africa
Juanita Clark, Chief Executive, FTTX Council Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdowns it has resulted in, in South Africa and the rest of the world, has highlighted the urgency for digitisation of industry and society and the need for ramping up high-speed connectivity in the era of social distancing.

As a leading global provider of ICT infrastructure and smart devices, Huawei’s vision is to bring the digital era to every person, home and organisation to enable a fully connected, intelligent world.

In South Africa, we are committed to the national goals related to the fourth industrial revolution, by promoting and sharing our global expertise and leveraging our ICT solutions.

In understanding the pandemic from an African point of view, we recently spoke to Juanita Clark, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the FTTx Council Africa, headquartered in South Africa. The FTTx Council is a not-for-profit organisation that works closely with public and private sector representing the role of fibre-optic infrastructure in telecommunications networks. We chatted to Clark about how Africa could better prepare for a high-speed, connected future…

Q: Can you share your observations of the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on the telecommunication industry?

A: On 27 March 2020, the day lockdown was instituted, life as we knew it changed forever. Since then, there has been a steady realisation of the importance of broadband connectivity to support the continuation of our lives through online working, study for students at tertiary education and basic education. The COVID-19 pandemic reset the clock and the way we work, study and access entertainment from the safety of our homes.

For those of us with a good Internet connection, not much changed as we had the ability to remain productive during this period, and we could enjoy online entertainment. For those that don’t have access to a good and stable connection, life became increasingly difficult. If the last weeks have taught us anything, it is the importance of digitisation of our communities. In order for this to take place, in a manner that will keep up with demand, we need to pay special attention to current policy directions in order for us to service the incredible demands for connectivity.

Q: In your opinion, is the role of optical fibre in connectivity necessary?

A: No doubt, direct link via optical fibre still guarantees the best customer experience. Future-proof networks are based on optical fibre to support fibre to the home (FTTH) and also as the backhaul of 4G/5G networks. In fact, most connectivity solutions need fibre somewhere in the network to support delivery.

Q: Are we doing enough to future-proof our networks?

To realise a high-speed connected society, one of most efficient ways to ensure that we achieve it is through pre-installed – or fiberised – new-build premises. Although some property development companies have adopted this approach, there is still a lot of education that needs to be done to ensure high-speed broadband connections are accommodated from the outset. In March 2020, the Digital Secretary of the United Kingdom announced that the government would legislate new-build homes to have pre-installed fibre infrastructure. Similarly, in France, Spain and Sweden, we have seen similar legislation being put in place to redefine the Universal Service Obligation (USO) on developers, to deploy optical fibre cable into new build premises. Of course, there are several advantages to the property.

Q: Way back in 2014, your organisation believed that fibre broadband increased the value of domestic properties. Can you take us back to your reasons for this prediction?

A: I think that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed the value of a high-speed, stable Internet connection into perspective. There is immense value in having a high-speed connection in your home. Pre-COVID it had benefits, but post-COVID these advantages will be even greater as society adopts the new normal. However, there are other advantages.

Retrofitting still means that fibre installers have to make an appointment with you, to enter your house for cable and equipment installation. In some cases, your walls would have to be drilled into, and interior finishes and decor may be affected. For this reason, we firmly believed that having a fiberised (fibre-ready) home is more attractive. But for this to happen, we have to ensure new residential and commercial properties are fitted with fibre-ready connection points, and to do this, we may need policy intervention. Fiberised premises that are fibre-ready is proven to lower both time and cost of deploying physical cables, but also benefit the owner and property developers. Over the next year, this will become a prerequisite with future homeowners.

Q: Thank you for talking to us, do you have a closing comment?

A: Broadband has and will continue to change our lives and behaviour. Everyone will need to transform digitally to remain productive. This is true for individuals, industries, enterprises and government. The greatest obligation will fall on government as it has to drive digital transformation initiatives and take the lead to regulate co-operation between operators and the sectors that are affected by digitisation, including that of property developers. We cannot afford not to transform digitally, and now is the time to look at all sectors to ensure that we are doing what is needed to build the digital future. COVID-19 has catapulted the world into the fourth industrial revolution. We must make sure that we are not left behind. 

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Vanashree Govender
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