CENTURION, Gauteng – 3 October 2008 – Shared broadband infrastructure company Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), which has laid more than 200 km of fibre infrastructure over the last year in some of South Africa’s highest-density metropolitan areas, is preparing to materially accelerate its network expansion with an expenditure plan involving upwards of R2 billion by 2010. Director Richard Came, a technology entrepreneur, who earned his reputation at information technology group Dimension Data, where he was one of the founding members, tells Engineering News that the company has already invested significant capital in the roll-out of the initial ‘fibre to the curve’ infrastructure in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town. It has also invested in the creation of a high-tech network management centre, located in Rivonia, Johannesburg, which DFA director Malcolm Kirby says enables it to manage the network infrastructure on behalf of the operators. This, Kirby adds, frees them up to concentrate on providing end-users with advanced broadband communications services. It could also facilitate the introduction of smaller market entrants as the communications sector liberalises. By the end of the year, the company, which deploys its systems mostly using a mechanical-trenching solution operated by sister company Muvoni Weltex, will be in a position to install up to 130 km of ducting infrastructure a month – Muvoni Weltex and DFA share a common shareholder in the form of the Community Investment Ventures, or CIV, but DFA has other powerful partners in the form of Venfin and, more recently, Absa Capital, which has bought a 10% equity stake in the company.
Ahead of the Demand Curve
The civil engineering dimension, which is also the most expensive aspect of fibre laying, is being pursued on a “build it and they will come” philosophy, with scope to add significant additional capacity to the same trenches as demand rises. Each trench is generally filled with four ducts, which together contain 28 microducts, which is far in excess of current requirements. In fact, Came asserts that only one duct is probably sufficient for current needs. The ducting pipes are colour-coded to assist with the management and maintenance of the infrastructure, with each ducting pipe containing at least four individual microducts. A fibre-containing cable, which holds another series of colour-coded insulation wires through which the individual fibres run, is passed through these microducts. The fibre cables, which are generally imported from Asia, are, in fact, blown through the microducts on a cushion of air at a rate of up to 3 km at a time. DFA has also adopted an advanced security-access system, whereby the manholes are locked using an electronic key. A code, which is supplied to the key holder remotely from the Johannesburg operations centre, is required before the key can unlock the access cover. “At present, we have access to eight trenching machines, but we expect to have 15 in operation by the end of the year,” Came enthuses. He explains that these machines are able to dig the narrow trenches required for the laying of the fibre ducting at a rate of up to 700 m a day and repair the road surface within a seven-day cycle – significantly faster than manual trench digging, which generally advances at a rate of about 50 m day. This, together with the fact that DFA has developed expertise in securing the necessary rights of way from the city authorities, is punted as a key value proposition for those telecoms and value-added network service (Vans) companies keen to accelerate their broadband service offerings.
Indeed, the company’s knowledge of how to navigate what is likely to be a tightening of municipal bylaws around the roll-out of fibre networks could be critical as a growing list of communications groups, including the large cellular companies such as Vodacom and MTN, prepare to spend billions on self-provisioning in a bid to loosen Telkom’s financial stranglehold. But Came believes the key value lies in the open-access
DFA is the premier wholesale, open-access fibre-infrastructure and -connectivity provider in South Africa. We finance, build, install, manage, and maintain a world-class fibre network to transmit metro and long-haul telecommunications traffic. We started rolling out our fibre network in 2007, and to date, we have deployed over 13,000 km of ducting infrastructure in major metros, secondary cities, and smaller towns. Our network runs with an industry-leading uptime of 99.98%. We lease our secure transmission and backbone fibre infrastructure and provide associated connectivity services to telecommunications operators, Internet service providers, media conglomerates, tertiary education institutions, municipalities, government organizations, and other businesses, large and small, on equal terms. DFA is a Level 3 B-BBEE Contributor on the ICT Sector Codes.