Telkom must be more upfront about its choice of broadband technology to succeed Diginet in the next two to four years, as well as its plans to improve customers' ADSL experience in the meantime – or we could all bear the brunt of a continued dearth of broadband services like voice over IP (VOIP).
So says Rob Lith, business development director at cloud-based PBX and VOIP provider Connection Telecom, which has joined other members of the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) in calling for more clarity, after Telkom announced it will stop selling Diginet in 2016 and end supporting it in 2018.
Lith says technology alternatives abound and providers are raring to pick up any slack as needed, but since Telkom has the biggest broadband coverage in SA, it has a responsibility to consumers, enterprise customers, communities and the telecoms industry.
"A large proportion of these groups depend to quite a staggering extent on Telkom, and they need clarity about their investment options," he says.
Sticking with ADSL?
What role does ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) play in Telkom's plans? Lith asks. As is well known, consumers and small businesses use it widely for its affordability, but are mostly ambivalent about the technology's "best effort" communications.
"Telkom has acknowledged that some ADSL exchanges are sub-par as they lack sufficient backhaul capacity to deliver a reliable service," says Lith. "The done thing would be to disclose the extent of over-subscription and to reveal plans to beef up capacity. But this is not being done."
Nevertheless, he says, Connection Telecom expects underperforming ADSL exchanges to improve in coming months.
"With sufficient backhaul capacity, service providers can buy enough IP Connect (IPC) capacity to provide edge services based on VDSL [very-high-bitrate-DSL] – along with Telkom itself," says Lith.
Upgrading to LTE?
In the same vein, Telkom has identified 300 "unprofitable" ADSL exchanges and indicated that they will be replaced – again without providing details about the new technology, says Lith.
One possibility is Long Term Evolution (LTE or 4G), a high-speed wireless data standard currently being rolled out in the big urban centres by various providers (led by Telkom), he notes. This implies a big push by the former monopoly, but it is not certain, says Lith.
Ideally, he continues, Telkom should step up its fibre rollout and improve delivery times dramatically.
Internet Solutions and Neotel are currently leading the charge with well-priced fibre (R1 500 for installation and R1 500 per month for a 1Mbps service) delivered within … weeks, while Telkom is dragging its heels with very pricey links with higher minimum capacities and installation can take … months to install and incur a cost of R15 000 for installation, Lith says.
According to Lith, Telkom has mentioned plans to provide low-capacity fibre services at prices equivalent to the replacement cost of Diginet, but only by 2015 or 2016.
Passive optical networks (PONs), he says, however, present an immediate opportunity for affordable fibre rollout to multiple premises at once. Gigabit-capable PONs (GPONs) use point-to-multipoint technology to split a single optical fibre.
No club ties
Not for the first time in history, says Lith, Telkom is moving slowly on technologies that could hasten more equitable broadband access. Whatever the considerations behind this, the fact is that it is hurting broadband customers, previously disadvantaged communities and the industry, he reveals.
Moreover, he is of the view that if it continues, Telkom risks being left behind by telcos with the deep pockets of an IS or Neotel. "While this won't stop it sharing in the spoils along with a few privileged contenders, other providers that depend on their fibre will not taste those benefits, to the detriment of broadband rollout as a whole.
"Continuing with the clubby approach of old in broadband rollout will only succeed in keeping access limited for an unconscionable time, which does not augur well for the economy," concludes Lith.