Floating the Internet
New plan to bring connectivity via your plumbing
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.