As of the end of last month, Telkom has connected 38,000 homes to fibre, By December this year the operator expects this figure to climb to 70,000. Come March 2016 it expects 150,000 homes to be connected, half a million by the end of next year and 1 million by 2018. Them, as they say, are fighting words.
Telkom only has around 1 million ADSL lines in service, so trying to outdo that in fibre connections is optimistic to say the least. Optimism aside, we’re pleased to hear Telkom make these sorts of predictions. For years South African consumers (and businesses) have had to rely on ageing copper infrastructure and settle for a decidedly third-world experience of the Internet.
Now companies like Vumatel and Fibrehoods, which are rolling out fibre networks in selected neighbourhoods, are making fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) a reality and reminding Telkom that if its offers don’t get a whole lot more compelling soon consumers will actually have alternate options to choose from, and will do so. It’s been trying, from rolling out VDSL to eek more out of its copper assets to growing its fibre network and getting not just businesses but consumers using it.
Moreover, in its defence, the last couple of years at Telkom have been eventful but largely positive. New leadership in the form of CEO Sipho Maseko, changes to the board and a commitment to reducing costs and making the company more competitive have seen its share price rally and stabilise (relative to the last decade), a leaner, more focused Telkom Mobile emerge (devoid of its pejorative “8ta” branding) and have seen the operator bring new products like LTE-Advanced to market in a bout of uncharacteristic adventurousness.
The company’s even cut DSL and FTTH prices this year along with the wholesale data prices, launched SIM-only mobile packages and last week announced the second phase of its “uncapped” LTE service that sees it offering consumers wireless internet using its LTE infrastructure, with subscriptions being limited to 150 per physical tower.It’s also introduced (or, rather, reintroduced) a 1Mbit/s ADSL service to try and get more people online. Remarkably, there’ve even been murmurs that the company might drop the so-called “Telkom tax” that sees consumers having to pay monthly line rental for a telephone line in order to get ADSL, even if it’s only the ADSL the consumer intends using.
Removing this impediment could only help the company’s cause. South Africans are a price sensitive bunch, and you can bet there are plenty of consumers who are getting by on mobile data (even though its more expensive) simply to avoid paying the Telkom tax, or to avoid (perceived) lengthy obligations to the operator.
Our recent experiences have suggested Telkom’s paying closer attention to service quality and genuinely trying to make dealing with the company and its call centres less arduous for consumers. Which is good news. If this continues we’ll gladly pay Telkom for fibre when its available. Assuming, of course, we haven’t already started paying someone else (Vumatel, Fibrehoods, Vodacom, MTN) for it first.