Written by Chelsea Petersen
Telkom has launched its fibre-to-the-home plan, and many South African suburbs already have access to the new internet technology. The light technology has been rolled out as an alternative to the old copper cables, making the whole system more efficient. This also means, however, that the internet packages it makes available much more expensive. While fibre has an edge on the soon dated copper system, it may be a while before the fibre-in-the-home plan is viable for all South Africans.
True to its name, the fibre optic technology uses pulses of light to carry data along strands of glass. As crazy as that sounds, it works. Transmitters convert electronic information into light pulses. The pulse travels unobstructed along the glass and, when it reaches a receiver, the pulses are converted back into electronic information. Once dubbed the technology of the future, fibre cables have a much faster speed than copper cables, meaning their capacity to carry data is much larger. Thus, transmissions are highly efficient and promises advancement in many technical areas.
Not only can fibre optics transfer more data at a higher rate, but signals can be transferred to over 200 kilometres and maintain the same quality throughout the distance. It can also transmit signals at a higher frequency, and is less vulnerable to electromagnetic interference. This makes it significantly more effective and sustainable than the copper wires, which works by transmitting an inconsistent electric current which is susceptible to various interferences. It allows for a cool thing called multiplexing, where multiple signals can be sent through one cable. It’s believed that this could change the face of internet usage. Of course, fibre optic technology also has its downsides. These include the obvious high installation costs; often special equipment is also required. While cabling may, in some ways, be superior to copper wiring, it also leaves itself susceptible to physical damage because of it compact nature.
In South Africa, Telkom has initiated the biggest plans for the fibre-to-the-home roll out, with many suburbs in Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal, and the Western Cape already able to make use of the fibre optic network. While demand is expected to grow, the technology currently requires expensive rates. The available offers range from R999 to R1,799 per month, an expense that dictates that fibre optic broadband will not become a common household feature for some time yet, though there is already network competition. Both Vumatel and Mweb have also rolled out fibre optic cables in many of the same suburbs, working with the community, and have plans for expansion in the near future. Unfortunately, the technology is location-based, meaning you won’t be able to receive the service unless your area is connected to its network. While progress in this area has been promised in recent years, this year’s steady roll out of cables and high rates indicate that growth will be slow. The cheaper option of using the copper cable network remains popular and readily available for those not willing to splurge.
This has left many wondering if investing in the fibre optic network is worth it, when copper wire broadband works well enough. For normal household, the benefit is that fibre optic cables will give you much faster broadband. If you do a lot of downloading and streaming, or online gaming, then a fibre optic connection is a good buy. Again, this depends on whether the cables have been rolled out into your area. Obviously, if your broadband connection is only used for emails, browsing, and a few videos, fibre optic connection is a rather unnecessary, and expensive, luxury. For most, the most cost effective route would be to persevere with their, now slow, copper wire broadband until fibre optic becomes the standard data transmitter in South Africa.