Narissa Subramoney
Copy rewriter
3 minute read
21 Nov 2021
6:38 pm

CIVH Vodacom deal pegged as start of ambitious plans to bring fibre to the poor

Narissa Subramoney

CIVH operates an open-access network, which means the company takes the capital, technological, and environmental risk of laying cables.

Construction site for installing fiber optic cables under the ground beside a street to bring fast internet to all residents, selected focus, narrow depth of field

Vodacom’s recent R13.2 billion deal with telecommunications service provider Vumatel, Dark Fibre Africa and Community Investment Ventures Holdings (CIVH) marks the beginning of an ambitious plan to bridge the great digital divide.

On 10 November, Vodacom announced it would acquire a co-controlling interest, along with Remgro and New GX Capital, in a new entity consisting of assets including Vumatel and Dark Fibre Africa (DFA).

Upon completion, Vodacom will hold a 30% equity interest in a newly formed entity, provisionally called InfraCo.

Community Investment Ventures (CIVH) is the parent company of DFA and Vumatel and holds the remaining 70% of InfraCo.

CIVH CEO Raymond Ndlovu shared with The Citizen his vision of rolling out fibre to South Africa’s most vulnerable groups and areas, free of charge, creating affordable internet access for everyone.

Ndlovu said the Covid-19 pandemic had hastened the country’s digital transition and highlighted the need for increased broadband access during the lockdown.

“The entire world is undergoing a digital revolution, and at the core of that revolution is connectivity or broadband activity,” he added.

Globally, online education institutions opened access to their material during the lockdown, paving the way for democratised access to information.

But, only the connected can access this new portal of information and associated opportunities.

“We will pay for it, and we will build it.”

“The plan is for all people, regardless of their background, locations, education and financial status, to be online and have access to a whole new world of information,” said Ndlovu.

CIVH‘s vision is to move away from core/traditional households towards lower LSM areas like Soweto, Vosloorus and Mitchells Plain, where the groundwork for fibre connections are at an advanced stage.

“We are intent on getting into the townships and smaller, secondary cities and towns.”

CIVH operates an open-access network, which means the company takes the capital, technological, and environmental risk of laying cables.

“We pay for it, and we build it,” said Ndlovu.

“We enable anyone with the means and capability to connect at a fixed transparent charge. Everybody pays the same price,” he explained.

In traditional areas, end users take out contracts with service providers, which is payable every month. But Ndlovu says they will use a prepaid model in the lower LSM areas.

Fibre access in the lower LSM areas will also signal a shift from spectrum/wireless radio band, which uses a specific and more costly radiofrequency.

“This is the reason you hear people complaining about their data getting finished quickly – it’s because the radio wave frequency is much more expensive,” he explained.

Lower criminal risk with fibre technology

While cable theft is debilitating operations at the country’s railways and Eskom, Ndlovu says fibre technology is almost crime proof because it doesn’t use copper, which is highly attractive to criminals.

“Fibre is very difficult to extract; it is laid in thick cables which are well secured and in itself, fibre optic is just glass,” explain Ndlovu.

“It’s worth nothing in the hands of any would-be thieves.”

From Mitchells Plain to Vosloorus

CIVH is one of the first companies to take technology infrastructure to Mitchells Plain, Vosloorus and Soweto. Ndlovu says there’s more interest from competing cable infrastructure companies to get into the rural areas.

“There is what we call overbuild in some places, where another company will come to the same place we are digging trenches. It’s like building two railway lines in one area,” he said.

Ndlovu said CIVH is expanding on the type of infrastructure technology being used for the project. “Let’s just say it’s not only digging trenches,” he hinted.

Ndlovu was tight-lipped about revealing too much about the newer technologies but promised more details in the future.

NOW READ: Soweto to become first SA township to get fibre