When the Dartcom Group launched Gbitel, a level 1 B-BBEE marketplace platform in 2018, the aim was to facilitate the participation of SMMEs in fibre rollout, especially in underserved areas.
Amid South Africa’s high unemployment rate, the initiative helps to create work in participation with various fibre network operators (FNOs), including Vumatel. It brings fibre connectivity to bridge the digital divide, while helping local small businesses to work through the platform and get the benefits of training and working capital funding.
Until recently, fibre rollout within South African townships was limited. However, with the launch of so-called “reach products” by Vumatel and others, Gbitel has “piloted, refined and industrialised” fibre rollout in underserved areas, according to its press statement.
“Gbitel continues to engage with its partners globally, especially in South America, to refine its network rollout strategy to make it viable to invest in underserved areas.”
They say they have reached about 90,000 homes in underserved areas and facilitated investments in excess of R150 million into these areas “to realise the potential of e-learning and development of new SMMEs”.
Dartcom CEO Brett Nash has said: “Our extensive experience in telecommunications infrastructure products and services allows Gbitel, through partners, not only to build reliable and affordable internet infrastructure in our chosen communities but also to impart invaluable skills to local communities to help them develop as installers themselves. The journey from bricks to clicks starts with spades and splicers.”
In each area that is being rolled out for fibre, Gbitel hires and trains installers from local communities to build, according to the required specifications of FNOs.
The idea is that the same installers can even diversify into “other infrastructure opportunities”, such as energy, water and home installations.
“Our shareholders focused on setting up a marketplace to collaborate with the industry in an effort to upskill local communities, create jobs and hopefully, with time, unlock economic growth in our chosen areas,” says Pam Marrie, Dartcom’s Head of Corporate Social Investment.
“Investing in fibre infrastructure in underserved areas is essential to bridge the digital divide and incorporate as many South Africans as possible into the digital economy. Having the added benefit of skills transfer and job creation in each area only extends the value of projects like these,” adds Dietlof Mare, CEO of Vumatel.