The fibre-to-the-home revolution that has swept suburban South Africa is about to arrive in the country’s townships, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Fibre-to-the-home is this decade’s magic ingredient for high-speed, painless and unlimited Internet access. But, until now, it has been the province of the privileged. Only the more affluent suburbs of South Africa’s cities have been afforded the luxury of the dedicated optical fibre cables that typically run in trenches along leafy sidewalks.
That is about to change.
Vumatel, the company that sparked the FTTH revolution when it won a contract to supply fibre to the suburb of Parkhurst, is at it again. This time, it plans to connect the townships of South Africa. It has come up with a low-cost alternative to wiring dense suburbs, and intends to offer uncapped high-speed broadband for a mere R89 a month.
To put that in context, the average spend on a cellphone in lower socio-economic segments is typically around R100. Fibre, coupled with in-home Wi-Fi, can replace a large chunk of cellular spend by moving voice traffic from the mobile networks to voice over WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, among other. All data use in the home would move off the expensive data services provided by the mobile operators.
With wide-scale roll-out, this could prove immensely damaging to the operators. More significantly and to the point, however, it could prove immensely beneficial to those who have previously been kept away from the largesse of high-speed, unlimited access.
The Vumatel service will offer a 100Mbps download and 10Mbps upload speed, which typically costs more than a R1000 a month in more affluent suburbs. How is it possible, then, to offer it at a mere R89 a month?
Only with a great deal of commitment to finding an affordable broadband solution for the mass-market.
“We think that the FTTH deployments as we and other operators are doing them are great for the country, because we are moving connectivity forward at a macro level,” says Vumatel CEO Niel Schoeman. “But it is clearly not addressing the information divide between the less fortunate and the leafy suburbs, and potentially exacerbates inequality in terms of information access.
“We’ve been trying to come up with a solution to address townships, to provide that abundance of information to residents of townships. We think we can do it by providing it at R89 a month for a 100Mbps uncapped service. We think that is fundamentally different to a 500MB data allocation on a prepaid service, which has been the only kind of option for connectivity.”
Vumatel will initially roll out the service in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra, with an estimated 400 000 residents in the target area.
“That is our township equivalent of the announcement that we were connecting Parkhurst. We’re going to give it a go between now and March.”
The question remains: how is such low cost possible on a business level?
On the surface, the answer lies in Vumatel’s October 2016 acquisition of Fibrehoods, a provider of aerial fibre similar to overhead telephone lines. However, that in itself would not cut the costs so radically. Until recently, Fibrehoods had also been serving wealthier suburbs.
“Clearly, to make that price point work, we need to work hard at the capital cost of deployment,” says Schoeman. “The topography of townships doesn’t lend itself to the typical buried, trenched solution, so we’ll use aerial fibre.
“The price is possible thanks to a combination of technologies , the potential number of customers per square kilometre, and the fact that it will also be potentially contended up to 20 times, meaning 20 customers will use the same 100Mbps line. So each customer is always guaranteed 5Mbps upward, but the probability of getting more like a 20Mbps service is high. Not everyone will be using the same line at the same time.”
Vumatel will also use its fibre to provide Wi-Fi in public spaces in the townships. This service will be possible, partly, thanks to corporate social investment from its 49% shareholder, Investec.
“We’ve looked at a broader Wi-Fi deployment model, but we don’t think it creates the abundance that closes the digital gap,” says Schoeman. “You can use the analogy of water: Wi-Fi hotspots create wells where people can collect water whereas, if you provide piped water to homes, you see people growing gardens and using it in an unlimited way. We want to go deep into every home, uncapped, at high speed, and see if we can make a difference.”
Unlike the suburban model, where Vumatel lays down the fibre and leaves it to Internet Service Providers to deliver access, it will initially provide access itself. It will piggyback on the Dark Fibre Africa grid that will link it to the broader Internet and undersea cables, but will acquire and distribute access and data services itself.
“We first want to see if we can make the model work rather than having to add additional margins for service providers. Our philosophy is always open access so, if it works, we will see if we can let service providers offere innovative services.”
Schoeman believes the eventual fibre market for all service providers will be as much as 35-million. He says it will be possible for Vumatel to bring fibre within reach of another 10-million people in the next couple of years, at a cost of between R2-billion and R3-billion.
“We want to see if we can kick off another catalyst event like Parkhurst, and start a storm: to see if we bring abundant connectivity to low income homes.”
Cisco unveils ‘Internet for the future’ silicon breakthrough
Cisco One is a new silicon architecture that can be used in any form factor, while Cisco 8000 will reduce cost of building and operating mass scale networks
Cisco today unveiled a series of innovations it says will underpin “the Internet for the Future”. It launched Cisco Silicon One, a new networking silicon architecture, and the Cisco 8000 Series, the world’s most powerful carrier class routers built on the new silicon.
Chuck Robbins, chairman and CEO of Cisco, said its technology strategy was to build a new internet designed to push digital innovation beyond the performance, economic and power consumption limitations of current infrastructure. It would be a multi-year approach that will define the Internet for decades to come.
“Innovation requires focused investment, the right team and a culture that values imagination,” said Robbins. “We are dedicated to transforming the industry to build a new internet for the 5G era. Our latest solutions in silicon, optics and software represent the continued innovation we’re driving that helps our customers stay ahead of the curve and create new, ground-breaking experiences for their customers and end users for decades to come.”
Cisco said in its announcement: “Over the next decade, digital experiences will be created with advanced technologies — virtual and augmented reality, 16K streaming, AI, 5G, 10G, quantum computing, adaptive and predictive cybersecurity, intelligent IOT, and others not yet invented. These future generations of applications will drive complexity beyond the capabilities current internet infrastructure can viably support.
“For the past five years, Cisco has driven a technology strategy that is building the internet our customers will need for the future success of their business in an advanced digital world. Aimed at solving the toughest problems that will emerge as digital transformation taxes current infrastructure to its breaking point, this strategy will lead to the next-generation of internet infrastructure that combines Cisco’s new silicon architecture with its next-generation of optics.
“Cisco’s strategy will change the economics behind how the internet will be built to support the demands of future, digital applications and will enable customers to operate their businesses with simpler, more cost-effective networks.”
Cisco says its strategy is based on development and investments in three key technology areas: silicon, optics and software.
David Goeckeler, executive vice president and general manager of the Networking and Security Business at Cisco, elaborated: “Pushing the boundaries of innovation to the next level — far beyond what we experience today — is critical for the future and we believe silicon, optics and software are the technology levers that will deliver this outcome.
“Cisco’s technology strategy is not about the next-generation of a single product area. We have spent the past several years investing in whole categories of independent technologies that we believe will converge in the future — and ultimately will allow us to solve the hardest problems on the verge of eroding the advancement of digital innovation. This strategy is delivering the most ambitious development project the company has ever achieved.”
Visit the next page to read about the dramatic performance improvements in the new products.
Building the Internet for the Future begins now
By JONATHAN DAVIDSON, SVP and general manager of Cisco’s Service Provider Business
“We do not remember days; we remember moments.” Those words from Cesare Pavese have been one of my personal favorites. Interestingly, we remember thesesignificant, or “flashbulb” moments in our lives in vivid detail. We rememberexactly where we were, whom we were with, what we felt, or even what we werewearing. One of my flashbulb moments was 20 years ago in 1999 when Brandi Chastain made the winning penalty shot during the Women’s World Cup inspectacular fashion. At the time, I was coaching my oldest daughter’s soccer team.That victory felt like the start of something big. It had this wonderful feeling thatwomen’s soccer was going to change for the next generation.
I believe we are having one of those “flashbulb” moments right now in the networking industry. Years from now, we will look back and remember this moment in time. Because today, Cisco revealed breakthrough innovations sosignificant and expansive, they will change the economics of the Internet forthe next generation.
Significant technological innovations have defined human history. The steamengine replaced muscle with machinery. With the telegraph, communications exceeded the speed of animals. And, with the Internet, information wasdigitized, and global communities were created.
IP infrastructure connects our world. The Internet has profoundly changed the waywe work, live, play, and learn – anything, anywhere, anytime. The results are astounding. Our ability to connect and collaborate has caused society to evolve faster than ever before. We have made more progress in mitigating wars, preventing famine, and curing disease in the last 35 years than in the previous35,000.
Today is the moment when we enter a new phase of the Internet. Technologiessuch as 5G, IoT, 3D printing, and advanced analytics are connecting more, increasing participation, and pushing digitization further. And as a result, industries like mining becomes safer, agriculture becomes more efficient, transportation becomes autonomous, and healthcare becomes wellness-driven, not crises-driven. The possibilities are endless. And service providers will be the catalysts for changing economies, countries, and the world because at the very heart of this next transformation is the network infrastructure that makes it all possible.
The route to success for service providers is not straightforward or simple. There are fundamental business challenges. Networks, which are already huge, must become even more massive. And to succeed, service providers need to transform not only their infrastructure but their operations and their business models as well.
Our current network economics will begin to break as we evolve to operate at massive scale. The physics behind our past achievements are already showing signs of slowing down, while traffic growth continues to accelerate. So far, performance increases have helped to reduce the cost of traffic at about the same rate that traffic has increased. $1 in CapEx today does eleven times the work that it did just a few years ago. However, continuing with the status quo will likely lead to a significant increase in CapEx unless we reinvent the rules.
The cost of operations must be reduced too. Today, many operators spend almost $5 in OpEx for each $1 of CapEx. With current network management technology, that situation is likely to get worse, as the larger a network becomes, the more inefficient it is to operate unless we reinvent the rules.
With innovation from a technology pioneer that spans multiple dimensions across silicon, optics, software, and systems to create entirely new network architectures, this is that “flashbulb moment” when Cisco is redefining the economics of the Internet.
Redefining the economics of the Internet has to begin at the foundation. The very “DNA” of the Internet itself. The engine to a car. Silicon.
Moore’s law is stalling. While the rest of the industry slows down from the physics of traditional approaches, we have unlocked new dimensions of innovation. By rethinking silicon design entirely, we can deliver industry-leading performance today and create a “fast lane” to the future. We are excited to introduce our groundbreaking programmable silicon architecture, Cisco Silicon One. The first member of this new family, Cisco Silicon One Q100, delivers over twice the network capacity and twice the power efficiency over any other silicon. It is the first routing silicon to break through the 10Tbps barrier without compromising carrier-class capabilities (e.g., feature richness, large buffers, advanced programmability). And Cisco Silicon One is available right now; we won’t make you wait for it.
The innovations in Cisco Silicon One bring significant value to lowering operational costs as well. In the past, multiple types of silicon have been used across a network and even within a single device. Feature development was inconsistent. Telemetry varied dramatically.
Operators had to spend too much time and effort coordinating and testing parity of new features across the network. Now, a single silicon architecture can serve different market segments, different functions, and various form factors for a unified experience that dramatically reduces costs of operations and time-to-value for new services.
Optic costs matter. At lower interface speeds, optics were roughly 10% of the total solution cost, and systems accounted for the remaining 90%. At 400G and beyond, that equation flips. Optics become the dominant part of the total spend.This dynamic needs to change, a long-term strategy is required to make it easier to deploy both short-reach and long-haul optics solutions.
Cisco is investing in technologies like silicon photonics to accelerate the adoption of 400G and prepare for the future beyond 400G. Our recent acquisition of Luxtera brings a highly automated wafer-scale manufacturing process to Cisco that improves production volumes and quality.
If silicon is the engine of a car, the software is the steering and suspension to enable phenomenal handling. Even the world’s most advanced silicon can be wasted without the right software to steer correctly and operate smoothly. Imagine the ride at 400 km/h without proper steering and suspension. Any unfortunate bump or turn could be disastrous.
To redefine the economics of operating a network, the Internet of the future needs software that recognizes operations is just as important as functionality. Cisco IOSXR7, the new release of our industry-leading Networking Operating System (NOS), has been overhauled to prioritize operations – with simplicity and automation. It has been simplified to reduce required resources, install procedures, and deployment efforts (e.g. zero-touch).
Most notably, XR7 has been completely modernized. XR7 is the first-of-its-kindcloud-enhanced NOS. XR7 can leverage new cloud-delivered SaaS deployment models from Cisco Crosswork Cloud to enhance operations. Now, operations team scan optionally consume insights and analytics as a service for agile, proactive management without the risks and resources of traditional models.
Now, we get to the “car” itself. With new silicon and new software, we can build new systems that have the performance, efficiency, and operational improvements to meet the next wave of traffic demand. Today, we introduce theCisco 8000 series routers, new systems optimized for high-density 100GbE and400GbE, including:
- 2 fixed platforms – providing 10.8Tb/s of network bandwidth starting at I RU
- 3 modular form-factor platforms – 8 slots, 12 slots and 18 slots delivering upto 115 Tbps, 172 Tbps and 260 Tbps respectively
These are systems designed without compromise and with a very bright future.No oversubscription. Full fabric redundancy. Power efficiency down to as little as4 Watts/Gb. That is 1/4 to 1/5th the amount of power that our nearest competitor uses. And a “clean sheet” design allows us to grow into 1.6 TbE interfaces and beyond.
Wait, there’s more. The most distinctive characteristic of the Cisco 8000 relates to trustworthiness. Networks are critical infrastructure as they connect industries,finance, utilities, and governments and service providers must maintain the integrity of their infrastructure. The chain of trustworthiness begins by knowing whether or not the hardware and software are authentic. The Cisco 8000 Series are equipped with tamper-proof hardware that serves as the root of trust to prevent any modification of the hardware or software. Next, the NOS, XR7, works with Cisco Crosswork Cloud to provide real-time visibility and control to deliver the trustworthy networks that the Internet requires.
To grow to the size and capabilities that the next generation will demand, the Internet requires fundamental changes. We reinvented from the ground up, the DNA, the performance curve, operations, trust, and even the rules. We reinvented what Cisco does best.
And these reinventions will allow us to build the future on new architectures –converged, cloud-enhanced, and trustworthy. We that work in the networking industry will hopefully remember this moment years from now. I hope it is just as vivid a memory as Brandi Chastain’s winning goal 20 years ago.