BT is in the final stages of testing South Africa’s largest ever terrestrial fibre network ring, and is planning to turn it on properly within the next two to three weeks. The network, which has been built by local firm FibreCo, was started in February 2012 and runs to around 2 000km in length. Once open for business, it will be used as a wholesale backbone for other operators, adding extra capacity between inland sites in Bloemfontein and Joburg to the undersea cable networks that land in Cape Town and East London.
Managing Director of BT South Africa, Keith Matthews, said that the company would be announcing customers signed up to use the network soon, although FibreCo has already revealed that MTN was among the first to sign up.
BTs network also has reach into Angola, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe via third-party network-to-network interfaces (NNIs). The company is looking at expanding on the continent, although its largest investment at the moment is in South Africa where it has an HQ in Johannesburg and an operations centre in Durban. A team of around 20 people look after the rest of the continent, Matthews said.
Steven Ambrose, of StrategyWorx, says that the new cable should improve overall quality of international networks from inland South Africa, but probably won’t affect pricing in the short term.
“In the medium to long term this will improve quality, mostly from the perspective of greater redundancy and maintenance of speeds as the demand for connectivity grows,” Ambrose says, “Pricing will steadily decrease as capacity comes online but at a far slower rate than has been the case in the past.”
And sorry to disappoint, but BT has no plans to sell directly to consumers either.
The announcement was made during a press conference in which BT – formerly British Telecom – revealed that around 50% of its business now takes place outside of the UK, and it has a particular interest in emerging markets.
President of the Asia, Middle East and Africa (AMEA) region Kevin Taylor told journalist that he “sees Africa as being similar to Asia 20 years, with many multinational companies starting to emerge from the area likely to precede rapid growth.”
Critically, Taylor was keen to stress that while South Africa is currently the main area of investment for the company on the continent, he does not see it as being the future African hub, and he is actively looking to bolster up its operations in other countries in the region.
The company currently spends $600m on R&D and investment, although Taylor said that it was impossible to put a value on its specific investment in the ‘MINTS’ region – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa’ – it was experiencing high growth in these markets, of around 20% year on year.
The FibreCo network is planned to expand to include a coastal cable stretching from Durban to Cape Town by 2015.