MTN to build fibre-optic backbone

10 September 2007

South African cellular operator MTN has announced plans to build a 5 000km fibre-optic network covering the country’s major centres within the next two years in order to cope with the increasing demand for bandwidth from its customers.

“MTN has designed and mapped out its own national backbone network and is in the process of going out to tender to identify relevant suppliers and obtain final constings for the laying of 5 000km of optical fibre cables to build the MTN network,” MTN SA managing director Tim Lowry said in a statement last week.

The decision to build a national backbone follows a successful two-month pilot project during which fibre-optic cables were laid between the Johannesburg suburbs of Sandton, Illovo and Rosebank, with companies such as SABMiller and the JSE taking part.

Lowry told Engineering News that while the pilot project cost R10-million – R8-million for the fibre and R2-million for equipment – the national backbone could cost up to R1.3-billion, depending on possible joint ventures or partnerships.

“Having been awarded a commercial licence to self-provide, MTN is now in a position to launch the first commercial offering by a mobile network service provider,” he said.

“We are going with self-provisioning to cut operational and customer costs and we are now the alternative choice to the current fixed-line operator.”

Under its mobile licence, MTN may self-provide the telecommunication facilities used to build its mobile converged telecommunications services, while also leasing out excess capacity on its fixed infrastructure.

The company already has experience in building and running fixed-line networks in Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda.

The statement adds that customers will now have access to products that will enable them to bundle virtual private networks (VPN), internet provision, hosting, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and mobile lines.

MTN Business head of network solutions Mike Brierley told Engineering News while the normal lead time attached to fibre-optics was about 12 months for the incumbent fixed-line operator, MTN would be able to roll out the service in between six and 12 weeks.

The company aimed to offer three services ranging between 2 megabits per second and 1 gigabit per second, up significantly from current offerings of between 64 kilobits per second to 10 megabits per second.

“The demand for high-speed internet and VPN access services within the corporate market is growing daily,” Lowry said.

“A fibre-optic network offers MTN almost infinite capacity, and can carry far more information at higher speeds over much greater distances, using far less power than copper cables.” reporter

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