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Metronet Fibre Networx wants to close the last mile fibre gap in South Africa and help open up 4G

While other African countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Mauritius have all started rolling out Fibre-To-The-Home and Fibre-To-The-Cabinet, there’s been a strange commercial caution in South Africa. What should have been one of the first counties to get into the game hasn’t been. It’s spent a lot of time looking at the “chicken-and-egg” problem without giving birth. Russell Southwood talks to Malcolm Kirby and Gary Williams of Metronet Fibre Networx about how things might change.

Metro Fibre Networx’s CEO Malcolm Kirby came out of Dark Fibre Africa that laid the first open access, independent dark fibre fibre network in South Africa:”South Africa does not have a last mile fibre infrastructure. When we were rolling out Dark Fibre Africa’s network, we realised that there would be a massive market place for it.” So Kirby decided to set up his own company to roll out a ubiquitous last

The existing customers are predominantly service providers. It has almost all ISPs as its customers, the ISP component of mobile operators and Vox Telecom, Neotel and MTN’s business network.

The network is currently limited to Gauteng province but it is conducting long distance trials with Broadband Infraco using 1 Gig Ethernet. So it’s looking to roll out networks in Durban in February/March this year and then move on to Cape Town. The biggest capacity on the last mile is 1 Gbps but customers can have anything from 2 Mbps upwards:”We’re trying to get customers to take 10 Mbps as standard.”

So does the roll-out of LTE represent new opportunities? Yes, it does, according to Gary Williams, Head of Pre-Sales Enginerring:”You need to bolster the network to get better coverage. The BTS are contended. Something like every 200 metres in targeted areas, you’re going to have to put a small cell. The biggest challenge then is the cost of the backhaul. Fibre gives you more speed and more reliable connectivity.”

“We target the access areas and have fibre connecting all the local access links and we can then join up the links within a local area back to an aggregation point. These access rings are then connected to a core ring. It’s backhaul through a network we already have in place. The cell can cover all services – Internet, data and voice – and can go up to 1 Gbps or higher if needed.”

It’s had good feedback from it’s discussion with a couple of operators and will be running trials soon, using a proof of concept for the small cells:”To sell 4G you need to get the saturation coverage to deliver a good experience.”Since all operators want to take LTE into the same population-dense areas, it makes sense for some of them to share this kind of infrastructure through a service offered by Metronet Fibre Networx.

It’s keen to emphasis that it will be using the Metro Ethernet Forum 22.1 standard:”It brings a standard specification for a high volume interconnection. It’s Ethernet, both as a technology and a language, and it’s surpassed all other technologies. If everyone is working to the MEF standard, then the time taken to interconnect people is much smaller and therefore we can be quicker to market.”

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