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First 100Mbps broadband in Africa launches with MTN

A Johannesburg fibre to the home (FTTH) pilot is thought to be the fastest on the continent.
Written by Adam Oxford, Contributor

South African mobile network operator MTN has laid claim to being the first to offer 100Mbps fibre to the home (FTTH) on the continent, with a commercial pilot on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

As of the middle of next month, residents of luxury gated estate Monaghan Farm, situated near Lanseria airport to north of the city, will be able to buy fibre services from the operator ranging in capacity from 10Mbps to 100Mbps. The ISP has also yet to say whether the speeds it's given are symmetrical or for downloads.

Pricing hasn't yet been confirmed either, but MTN says that it will be on a 'case-by-case' basis.

Monaghan Farm, is one of several new 'lifestyle estates' in the area, with just 300 houses on a 1,260 acre plot — a far cry from nearby Diepsloot, Johannesburg's largest informal settlement with a quarter of a million residents and little in the way of fixed line communications.

MTN says that after a full launch of its FTTH product on 1 June, it will be targeting similarly affluent areas "such as high-end gated communities, boomed-off suburbs and high-rise buildings".

Juanita Clark, CEO of industry association FTTH Council Africa, says that MTN is likely to have chosen Monaghan Farm for its pilot because relatively new estates like this already have fibre infrastructure for security.

"Involving a telecommunications operators means that they can derive additional value including, state of the art telecommunication connectivity, TriplePlay services and high bandwidth speeds for residents," Clark said.

Similar estates in the city have already begin selling high-speed broadband services to residents, relying on wireless or copper technology for the last mile.

Clark said that the announcement is a tipping point.

"If you consider that three years ago not one of the operators truly considered FTTH as an option, and in the last few weeks we've had announcement from the two biggest mobile operators that they will be building FTTH," she said. "I think it safe to predict that up to 80 percent of households in urban areas will have access to fibre."

MTN's main rival Vodacom is also planning a commercial fibre to the premise (FTTP) service later this year, with an FTTH service to follow. Together, Vodacom and MTN control almost 80 percent of the mobile market and are collaborating on a new fibre network.

Vodacom is also looking to purchase network provider Neotel from India's Tata in a deal which will be required to pass through South Africa's Competition Commission later this year.

South Africa’s communications industry is under intense scrutiny at the moment, as regulator ICASA faces further legal challenges in its attempt to stimulate competition by reducing termination rates for smaller mobile operators.

Communications minister Yunnis Carrim met with the regulator earlier this week in order to discuss implementation of the newly adopted national broadband policy, SA Connect. While an FTTH deployment is an achievement in line with the aims of SA Connect, reducing cost and providing universal access remain priorities on the government agenda.

"We need to move with speed on broadband," Carrim said, "but we also have to be sensible and effective. There is considerable unevenness in the delivery of broadband across the country and while we must encourage local initiatives, we need to synergise our efforts under SA Connect to ensure maximum benefits from broadband for the country as a whole."

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