Jo’burg R1bn broadband backbone here soon


The fibre backbone of the City of Johannesburg’s R1bn broadband infastructure project, being built in conjunction with Ericsson SA, should be completed within the next three months.

BWired, a telecommunications operator set up by the city and Ericsson, is running the project. It’s being managed in collaboration with several small Internet service providers.

The company began digging trenches and laying its fibre backbone network in April last year. However, the digging was put on hold during the soccer World Cup in June and July and the roll-out only got underway in earnest from August. Since then, BWired has built 300km of fibre in various areas around Johannesburg. Executive director Musa Nkosi says the backbone should be completed in the next three months.

So far, R240m has been ploughed into the network. Ericsson is funding the bulk of the project, with the City of Johannesburg paying for the physical fibre. Once the backbone has been completed, BWired will begin laying another 700km of fibre, which will ring underserviced areas such as Soweto and Orange Farm.

Nkosi says the project is well on track to providing Internet access to those areas. “Last mile-access, or final user access, is scheduled for late 2012,” he says. “However, we will have test sites and accounts set up during the last quarter of this year [and] test network topology and the management of the fibre network,” he says.

The connectivity will be used to connect small businesses and consumers in areas that have not had access to high-speed Internet access before. The company will also host several kiosks for users without access to computers and on-site support.

Programmes will also be set up at a number of technology hubs in areas such as Soweto and Alexandra, to help school children, adults and business owners develop computer, entrepreneurial and job-seeking skills.

Johannesburg residents in Sandton and parts of Randburg will already have noticed BWired signboards and workers trenching to lay cable. According to Nkosi, the fibre that is being laid in these areas is being used for its backbone network.

Part of the plan is to connect the City of Johannesburg’s main offices to branch sites through the metropolitan area.

Under an agreement, BWired will run the broadband network for the City of Johannesburg for a period of five years after the network is built and will then hand over the telecoms operator to the city.

Consumers hoping for an alternative access technology to Telkom’s last-mile copper network shouldn’t get too excited, however. The network is aimed mainly at providing access in underserviced areas and not as a direct rival to products from commercial network operators.

There are no plans to offer fibre-to-the-home; rather last-mile access, where it is exists, will be wireless. To bring affordable access to residents of underserviced areas, BWired has entered agreements with several Internet service providers and hopes to add cheap international capacity, probably through Seacom.

The City of Johannesburg is also hoping to use Internet access to provide e-government and e-health services to Johannesburg residents.