Old technology like ADSL instead uses copper, which is a conductive metal using electricity to send data and is therefore more likely to have interference. As copper has a high value in South Africa, copper cables are often dug up to sell illegally, leaving many businesses stranded without Internet. Fire optic cable has no value on the black market in South Africa and is therefore left alone. In addition, copper conducts electricity which means thunderstorms, which affect all areas of South Africa can cause interference on the lines.
Latency is also a big factor when it comes to the performance of the Internet. Latency is the term to describe the time it takes a data packet to travel to a local server and back again. This duration of time is known as latency and is recorded in milliseconds (ms). What affects latency is the last-mile: last-mile is the final connectivity leg between a telecommunication service provider and a business or home. Last-mile connectivity can be fibre, wireless or copper and will affect latency. If the last-mile is slow, lagging or intermittent, the Internet will feel slow.
With fibre the latency is far quicker than copper or wireless (air). Fibre is 3 ms, wireless between 30 to 50 ms and with ADSL 100 to 200 ms. This last-mile is therefore just as crucial as the Internet speed itself.
High-speed Fibre broadband
Fibre is also known as a high-speed broadband technology. Broadband is the term for any high-speed Internet access including Fibre, ADSL, wireless, mobile LTE and Microwave technologies. What distinguishes broadband from older technologies is that it is always on, and faster than dial-up access over traditional Analogue or ISDN, PTSN services.
As evidenced by the amount of digging in your area, fibre technology is heavily dependent on trenches, which is very expensive and makes availability limited, although this is constantly growing in metropolitan areas like Gauteng, Johannesburg. Broadband fibre also requires approval from the likes of councils and landlords, which could lead to bureaucratic delays and very long installation times.
While the roll out of broadband fibre in South Africa has definitely increased, the entry prices are still high because of the investment in trenching, the cost of manufacturing of fibre optic cables and switching hardware used to decode data at each end of the cable. Telecommunications providers in South Africa who have invested in the cable infrastructure, have been aggressively competing to get as many customers as possible to pay off the cost of the infrastructure and secure a “locked-in” customer base – in what is called the fibre “land-grab”. There are new fibre deals for business being marketed daily, however the cheapest does not always mean the best and depends entirely on the business requirements.
Businesses are increasingly seeking high-speed Internet to keep up with their data requirements. There are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created around the world every single day and 90% of it was generated in the last two years! We have become a data generating and data hungry world. With smart devices, video, voice and cloud applications becoming the norm, businesses in South Africa have to get high-speed Internet if they are to compete now and in the future.
As businesses increasingly use cloud-based services, intelligent software and communications becomes unified, the availability of data sits centre-stage as a key enabler for productivity and competitive advantage. Connectivity underpins it all: access to connectivity that is consistent, reliable and fast is the fuel that businesses need to grow.
In a world that is rapidly churning out connected devices – consumer products, durable goods, cars, sensors etc., – what is called the ‘Internet of Things’ is going to transform the way we work, live and play. 280,000 South Africans are connected to fibre according to statistics from the FTTX Council as of March 2018 and this is only going to grow.
The benefits of fibre
Fibre is, without a doubt, the fastest and most reliable last-mile connectivity service.
Fibre provides more bandwidth, that is the capacity of a network link to transmit the maximum amount of data from one point to another over a network or Internet in a given amount of time – usually measured in one second. Fibre has far greater capacity which is measured in millions of bits per second (Mbps) or billions of bits per second (Gbps). Fibre providers currently offer bandwidth up to 1 Gbps in South Africa.
Since with fibre data travels in the form of light, very little signal loss occurs during transmission and data can move at faster speeds for longer distances. For example, a local area network using copper lines can carry 3000 telephone calls all at once, while a similar system using fibre optics can carry over 31,000. This means that data can travel up to 50 km to and from an exchange before its speed is impacted.
Fibre transfers more data at a higher throughput over longer distances than copper wire.
Fibre is very flexible in that speeds are upgradeable up to 1Gbps without any infrastructure changes. While the entry prices of fibre are high, the costs decrease as speed increases.
Unlike ADSL which is asymmetrical – having different upload and download speeds – fibre is a symmetrical technology, which means that speeds are the same whether uploading or downloading.
The pitfalls of fibre
Unfortunately not every business will have fibre available in their area but the good news is that coverage is growing daily in South Africa.
Fibre could be damaged during any construction or digging in your area because they are thinner than copper cables.
Purchasing a broadband fibre package is expensive initially as it requires specialist equipment such as routers and wireless access points as well as installers, however the initial outlay will be recovered over time.
In South Africa Fibre to the building (FTTB) is often called Fibre to the business and is a term used when wiring up an office building to fibre. Fibre to the home (FTTH) is the term used to connect the home. Both FTTB and FTTH use nodes to connect to fibre optic lines with the older copper lines that the Internet currently uses. The big difference between the two is that FTTH nodes are usually found in boxes on the street, whereas FTTB nodes are located inside the business premises – often in a cabinet in a communications room. The distance between the connection and the FTTB node is usually much shorter which means there is less line interference.
FTTB costs more because of the investment made by an Internet provider in the fibre infrastructure – 90% of the cost of that service is the infrastructure. This includes trenching, civils, laying of the cable over a longer distance to reach the business, and switching equipment which provides better delivery of service. With FTTB fibre is placed much deeper underground with better protective reinforcing to avoid degradation. FTTH providers only provide one fibre strand per home versus FTTB which provides 48 pairs of fIbre strands. The equipment used with FTTB is more robust, has built in redundancy and allows for future planning.
In addition, FTTH is usually done using Asynchronous technologies where the up and down stream data rates are not equal. The advantages of FTTB are better contention ratios, security and defined Service Level Agreements (SLAs). It is worth examining the details of the fibre deal offered by your provider especially when it comes to contention ratios and Fair Usage Policies (FUP).
Bandwidth, speed and contention ratios
When it comes to the experience of fibre broadband there are two distinct elements to consider, bandwidth and speed. They are not the same thing. Speed is the rate of the fibre line – that is how fast it can be. Bandwidth is the amount of speed that is available for your business to use.
When you purchase an Internet package it is important to know the contention ratio that has been selected. Providers like Zinia provide very low contention for businesses, no more than 1 to 10, depending on client requirements and budget.
It is simple to explain. Imagine you’re driving a super car down a four-lane highway that has no speed limits at three in the morning. There are no cars around, and you can drive as fast as you want. But drive that same car at eight in the morning in “rush” hour traffic, when everyone is trying to get to work and you’re sharing the same road with all other users, it doesn’t matter how big the road is or how fast the car is, you’re constrained to going as fast as traffic allows.
Now contention ratios simply mean an Internet provider takes one Internet “road” – or pipe — of say 100 Mbps and sells it to more than one customer. This makes it affordable for the customer and allows the provider to recoup the costs associated with fibre. When a provider sells say a 100 Mbps line ten times, then each customer only gets 10 Mbps. Why? The reality is that people tend to use the Internet in short bursts – they get to work, download e-mails, then do other work, then come back and do a bit of browsing, and then do something else, then come back and download files.
This contention ratio means that during quiet periods, users will get more freedom of the road because very few people are “awake” and are using the Internet at that time. When it’s a busy period – for example, when people get to work and download their e-mails, connect to their CRM systems, and use their Internet extensively — then the traffic builds up and the line gets slower.
The typical traffic of an Internet user goes up and down in spikes. Different businesses have different peaks and troughs at different times. With, for example, a one-to-ten ratio, Zinia has found most customers get between 70 and 80 percent of their line speed at all times.
There is an upside for contention ratios.
The benefit is that some companies will not use the full capacity of fibre line speed all the time – it will be used only in short bursts from time to time. If a company’s average usage is ten Mbytes, but from time-to-time it needs 100 Mbps, it doesn’t need to pay for that 100 Mbps when it’s not being used. By buying a contended service, it is there for business to use in those times they need the bursts, but they don’t expect to have it all the time. Contention ratio is expressed as 1:10 for a line shared ten times and 1:1 if it is dedicated to the business. Zinia has a Premium Fibre service that ensures a dedicated with 100% of the line speeds 100% of the time.
It is worth noting that with FTTH a fibre line can be shared between twenty to fifty people depending on the provider.
Companies can buy a line that is faster when they can’t afford a dedicated fibre line — it’s about aligning the needs of the business to the product so that expectation and delivery is on par. It’s about clients understanding what they get in their fibre package, so they make the right decision.
Router for fibre
When fibre is installed, a new router will be provided by your Internet Service Provider. Most fibre routers provide for both Wifi and network cables. Most offices today use wireless over a physical LAN cable to access connectivity for computers, mobile phones, tablets and wireless printers. Having the right router / wireless Access Points (APs) are vital to providing reliable connectivity. AP stands for Access Point; it is a hardware device that acts as a communication hub for users of a wireless device to connect to the Internet.
How much bandwidth a business needs is really about how reliant they are on the Internet.
The simplest way to think about broadband fibre is to understand what staff are using the Internet for and determine how reliant the business is on the Internet? Some businesses have very basic usage needs such as for sending a few emails and Internet browsing; others are connecting to international servers, using a lot of voice and video; and some cannot run their business at all without Internet connectivity. Determining where a business fits is important to understand the deal that is best suited, the service level needed, and understanding the limits of the package that has been chosen.
Implementing the wrong broadband fibre solution for a business can seriously impact productivity and a businesses ability to deliver to its customers. Not every business requires connectivity at a premium service level. What one uses the Internet for will govern the price, speed and reliability of the product needed. To find out more Zinia has developed an easy to read guide on business reliance and the Internet. <link to brochure explaining low, medium and high reliance>
Service Level Agreements
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a written contract between an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and a company, setting out the level of service expected. The SLA defines what the customer will receive based on set criteria or deliverables and the level of service that an Internet Service Provider (ISP) guarantees.
SLA’s usually cover a description of the service, percentage uptime guaranteed by the ISP, the level of response to a problem or call out response times and outlines the penalties or remedies should the SLA not be met. A fibre provider’s SLA could promise network availability of 99.9%, defining the uptime levels of the contract.
Before signing up for high-speed Internet fibre packages without an SLA, companies need to consider carefully the impact of downtime to the business. According to the Gartner Group one hour of downtime of core business applications will cost all companies, of all sizes, in all industries an average of nearly R700 000 per hour. Small to medium sized businesses are affected too, research shows that the cost of internet downtime for a single event is around R223 000.
Often we do not see the impact of Internet downtime because it may not be immediately apparent. However one cannot deny the universal truth that time is money. According to the Information Technology and Intelligence Corp’s recent high availability survey, one out of 10 companies said they need greater than 99.999% availability.
Fair Usage Policy (FUP)
Uncapped fibre packages are provided by most ISPs, however there are some limitations as explained in the provider’s FUP. Some providers use shaping or throttling to control the line speed if the amount of data in the contract is exceeded within a month. Usage limits are different depending on the ISP used.
Shaping is the technology used by an ISP to control the speed and amount of data used during a certain time. Shaping involves slowing down the service to certain high data intensive sites such as torrents, Facebook or YouTube. Shaping is different to throttling and involves the ISP slowing down the speed of the entire fibre line.
Many companies think that when they are purchasing an uncapped fibre line there is no limit on the line, however they need to check the ISPs FUP as uncapped services usually involve some form of shaping or throttling.
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