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Why the Fibre rollout process is slow

“Fibre rollout is slower than Telkom’s dial up. More chance of leaving the country, than actually getting it installed.” This comment left on the Frogfoot Fibre page represents a common frustration from residents eager to get fibre and unaware of the processes that have to be followed to deploy fibre in an area.

So, why exactly does it take so long?  Rikus Stander, Head of Department: Planning, at Frogfoot provides some insights.

For the purpose of this explanation, we will describe what happens in an area where Frogfoot handle BOTH layer 1 (deploying the fibre) as well as layer 2 (lighting up and managing the fibre).  In some areas, Frogfoot is dependent on a 3rd party to handle all layer 1 activities.

The process of rolling out Fibre To The Home (FTTH) into a neighbourhood starts with community engagement, usually after the Ratepayers Association, a similar representative group or community member approaches Frogfoot.  Exploratory discussions are followed by proposals and further talks.  Frogfoot usually does some high level network planning to develop a business case before discussions are concluded and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is finalised.  This can take 3 months or longer.

After the MoU has been signed, high level network planning is done to confirm the business case before discussions start with the local municipality to go over the masterplan, the approach and preferred methodology.

Once agreement has been reached on the masterplan, Frogfoot then needs to engage with all municipal departments and local utilities and telcos that have infrastructure in the area. This involves getting detailed information about existing services that need to be included in the wayleave application.  Frogfoot’s plans must take existing services into account in order to be least disruptive.  Very little, if any, of this information is in electronic format and needs to be manually captured into Frogfoot’s plans. It takes at least 1 or 2 months to complete the first draft.

Low, medium, and high voltage power lines need to be detailed as well as street light power.  Water pipes; mains, distribution and house feeds need to be drawn in. Telecoms cables from Telkom, Vodacom, DFA, Neotel, or any other licensed telco with infrastructure in the ground must be included.  All of this infrastructure needs to be taken into account while drawing detailed plans and engineering drawings, showing how risks to existing services will be mitigated.

These detailed plans are then compiled into a document known as a ‘wayleave submission’ which is submitted to the municipality for approval.  Every department that may have services affected by telecoms cable routes needs to sign off on the plans.  Frogfoot is one of many telcos submitting wayleave applications and municipalities are often short staffed. Once all these signatures have been obtained, a wayleave approval is issued.  If the design is accepted by all, this can theoretically happen on the first pass, but usually the plans are returned to be amended, sometimes as a result a department having future plans for changes to roads, services, etc. which they need taken into account. A small change can take a day, more complex changes a week or two.  Another round of requesting signatures then commences. This can easily add a month or two to the process.

Once wayleaves have been approved, a project kickoff meeting is held where all the parties that approved the wayleave are supposed attend to walk the routes. During this exercise, planners are supposed to point out anomalies where ‘as built’ is not quite the same as what exists on paper. Parties are supposed to identify issues which need to be taken into account. Final plans are then amended.

The project then starts with Frogfoot scanning the routes with Ground Penetrating Radar to identify pipes, cables and services that are not where they are supposed to be.  Pilot holes are dug where unmarked services have been identified. Despite all these measures, there are often instances where unmarked services are missed and are later disrupted.

Engineers, supervisors and contractors then meet on site to finalise the trench lines.  Once the trench lines have been marked out, permission is obtained from the municipality to commence work and work permits are issued.  Management of any 3rd party contractors involved in drilling, trenching and rehabilitation is vital.

The ‘civils’ work; trenching and drilling now starts. At this point, many people think that once the trench passes their house, they should be able to get fibre, but a lot work still needs to be done before that happens.

First, the drilling teams create ducts under roads and in some cases where it is necessary, under driveways and other obstacles. Frogfoot has a ‘as good if not better’ rehabilitation approach.  If it is determined that it will not be possible to rehabilitate to that standard, Frogfoot may, at their own discretion, use drilling to avoid trenching.

Once the drilling is under way, the trenching teams move in after them to prepare the backhaul links, then the feeder links between the node room and the various points where the fibre will be split into distribution networks are completed.  This is a time consuming process which needs to be done with care to minimize disruption to residents and municipal services, while ensuring the integrity of ducts and fibre is such that future service levels can be maintained at a high level.

Soon after the financing of the project has been approved, Frogfoot and the community representatives start a process to identify and acquire node rooms in the area.  A node room needs to be acquired, converted and populated with node equipment by the time the core network in that construction zone is completed.

As each trench is completed, ducts are placed in the trench and tested for integrity after the trench is filled and rehabilitated.  Once the ducting is in place, the fibre is ‘floated’ through the ducts, spliced together, or split where necessary, and tested before the network is commissioned.

Only once the network is commissioned in an area with backhaul, core, and distribution networks lit and commissioned, can orders which have been placed for fibre broadband be fulfilled.  This involves trenching from the manhole at the corner of the property, across the property to the nearest point in the house close to an AC power outlet.

Orders are processed depending on where the network is first live and ready. Depending on the company deploying the fibre network (Frogfoot makes use of FTTH fibre being rolled out by other companies), once the fibre past your gate is ‘lit’, it can take anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks to process your order, configure equipment, schedule a team for the access trench and complete the home drop.

The installation fee charged by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) covers the first 30m of trench, duct, and fibre, from the corner of your property closest to the nearest manhole to the closest electrical point in your house.  If the closest electrical point is more than 30 metres, you will need to negotiate a price, for the remainder of the distance, with the contractor installing the fibre.

Depending on the nature of the terrain, the agreed method of deploying the fibre and any specific conditions you might negotiate, the fee can be anything from R50/m upwards.

Please note that the commercial agreement for any work regarding the excess distance over and above 30m does not involve your ISP or Frogfoot Networks.

There are usually 3 items that are mounted to the wall on the inside of the house to enable Internet access via the fibre, the first being a small box in which the fibre from the road is terminated.  This is known, for obvious reasons, as a Fibre Termination Box and needs no AC power.  Close to this, an Optical Network Terminator (ONT) is installed which sends and receives light down the fibre.  Once the ONT has been installed, the link can be handed over to the ISP who then installs an Internet Router and connects it to the ONT. All Internet services such as browsing, email, video streaming, Voice over IP, etc. are enabled by the Internet Router.

It can appear at times that the fibre company is ‘doing nothing’.  Deploying a large FTTH network is complex and costly; requires careful planning, execution and liaison between many different parties to ensure it is successful. Rest assured, the Frogfoot team are as keen as you to see every home in every Frogfoot fibre precinct connected to Frogfoot FTTH.

We ask your patience while we attend to the detail that ensures a quality fibre network is available to serve you for years to come.

Ready to take the leap and get connected with Fibre? Check for coverage here!

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