Telkom is going to open around 200 of its exchanges to other internet service providers (ISPs) this year, according to its Annual Report.

“To further stimulate access to broadband we will be making around 200 of our exchanges available to Internet service providers on an open access basis during 2015,” wrote Sipho Maseko, CEO of Telkom.

What does this mean for the average internet user and the structure of South Africa’s internet? According to Tech Central, Telkom hasn’t divulged exactly what “open access” means – so it could be a reworking of the current system whereby ISPs buy use of Telkom equipment in exchanges at wholesale prices or it could be the Local Loop Unbundling that’s called for in the National Broadband Plan, SA Connect.

Organisations such as the GSMA have been calling upon Telkom and the government to develop open access models for public telecoms infrastructure in order to stimulate competition and improve access to more people.

“Commercial entities will only build infrastructure as far as they can see a return on investment,” says Mortimer Hope, Africa director for the GSMA, who favours open access networks – where all operators have the ability to provide services on the same equipment – for extending broadband reach into rural areas.

Telkom’s report also discussed opening multi-service access nodes (MSANs). The MSAN is another piece of hardware that is installed on telephone exchanges to provide telephone and internet (ISDN, broadband and DSL) services. These MSANs are being used by Telkom to get VDSL (up to 40Mbit/s) and fibre (up to 100Mbit/s) connections to their customers.

This decision comes as a bit of a surprise as historically Telkom has been vehemently against sharing their infrastructure, and has been butting heads with Neotel in court over this very issue. As a first step in making the country’s internet more open, this could lead to events much more important than the financial status of a few exchanges.


This story was updated to correct an inaccuracy around interpretation of the Telkom statement.