Float­ing the In­ter­net

New plan to bring con­nec­tiv­ity via your plumb­ing

Finweek English Edition - - TECHTRENDS - SI­MON DIN­GLE si­mond@finweek.co.za

THE RE­AL­I­TIES of get­ting and staying con­nected to the In­ter­net in South Africa re­main headache-in­duc­ing, de­spite lib­er­al­i­sa­tion in the coun­try’s telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions regime. The only re­li­able, al­ways-on con­nec­tion at some­thing re­motely re­sem­bling a rea­son­able price is ADSL – and I hope you never have a line prob­lem or need a new line, be­cause it usu­ally takes weeks to sort out, as this writer re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced. But there’s light at the end of the tun­nel. And in this case the tun­nel is a sewer.

A com­pany called i3 plans to roll out a fi­bre op­tic net­work that will bring South African con­sumers fi­bre to the home (FTTH) ser­vices for the first time. And in­stead of dig­ging trenches, i3 plans to use SA’s plumb­ing. It’s an in­ge­nious idea. Dig­ging holes and in­stalling con­duits is an ex­pen­sive and la­bo­ri­ous process. But there are al­ready plumb­ing pipes in­stalled in ev­ery sub­ur­ban house in SA and fi­bre con­duits can be in­stalled in those with rel­a­tive ease – or so it would seem.

FTTH is be­com­ing the pre­ferred form of home and busi­ness con­nec­tiv­ity in Europe and is al­ready wide­spread in Ja­pan, South Korea and cer­tain Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries. The prom­ise of FTTH is com­pelling: the con­nec­tion is vir­tu­ally un­lim­ited in terms of band­width, hin­dered only by un­der­sea ca­bles and other net­work bits. Speeds of 100Mbps – around 23 times quicker than Telkom’s fastest ADSL con­nec­tion – are com­mon via FTTH net­works in Europe.

Affordable, fast and fu­ture-proof, it seems too good to be true. And alas, it might be. i3 Africa is a divi­sion of the i3 Group and SA isn’t the first coun­try it’s tried this in. The Group launched two pilot projects with its patented tech­nol­ogy in Bri­tain last year, both of which didn’t go to plan and were sul­lied by ac­cu­sa­tions of mis­man­age­ment and the de­struc­tion of mu­nic­i­pal in­fra­struc­tures.

Bournemouth was go­ing to be­come Bri­tain’s first ever “Fi­brecity” and i3 be­gan as­sem­bling a net­work there in 2009. But the Wes­sex Wa­ter util­ity pulled the plug on the pro­ject, say­ing there were con­trac­tual and method­ol­ogy prob­lems. Wes­sex Wa­ter ques­tioned the “tech­ni­cal method­olo­gies” of plac­ing fi­bre pipes in sew­ers, with sug­ges­tions they could cause block­ages. i3 Group dis­missed those wor­ries and placed the blame for the demise of the scheme on Wes­sex Wa­ter’s “ne­go­ti­at­ing in­tran­si­gence”.

Ear­lier this year i3 an­nounced plans for a sim­i­lar pro­ject in Aus­tralia, but the Bris­bane City Coun­cil has al­ready aban­doned its plans to com­plete the pro­ject. The group is now try­ing to launch a smaller scale pro­ject in New Zealand, which is at its be­gin­ning stages. To add to its prob­lems, the i3 Group is now fac­ing a Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice In­ves­ti­ga­tion in Bri­tain.

It’s pos­si­ble the group was just un­lucky in its clashes with authorities in Bri­tain and Aus­tralia. So its New Zealand pro­ject could be a good one to watch in terms of vi­a­bil­ity for SA, as it’s next in line. Let’s not for­get some of the best ideas met with mul­ti­ple fail­ures be­fore get­ting off the ground.

SA’s at­tempts at in­creas­ing broad­band and con­nec­tiv­ity have failed so many times be­fore, you can’t blame us for not throw­ing down the red car­pet for the i3 Group. Here’s hop­ing it man­ages to make it work.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.