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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  06 Jun 2010

INFOTECH: Cape Town's Broadband Powers Up


Recent Western Cape Business News

The City of Cape Town’s groundbreaking project to equip Cape Town with a municipal-owned optic fibre network reached a major milestone as the first section went live on 21 May 2010.

Belinda Walker, Mayoral Committee Member for Corporate Services and Human Resources, congratulated the Broadband team on their achievement: “This is a major step towards more efficient communications that will benefit all Capetonians.”

The section of cable running through the City Bowl between the Cape Town Stadium and the Civic Centre is now operating, improving communication between City buildings. Pictures from security cameras along the 2010 FIFA World Cup Fan Mile are also being sent via this cable network and linked with the City’s new Transport Management Centre in Goodwood.

The project commenced in 2005 and the first phase, a R125 million capital investment, was given the final go-ahead by Council at the end of 2008. The first phase of construction entails the installation of 24 000 km of optic fibre running though 230 km of cable, joined by five switching centres located at Gallows Hill in Somerset Road, Keller House in Wale Street, Parow Civic Centre, Bellville Civic Centre and the Athlone Stadium. From these points, access cables will run to municipal buildings in the surrounding areas.

By the end of this year when the first phase of the project will have been completed, a core ring of optic fibre cable will stretch across Cape Town, linking 50 municipal buildings including the municipal offices at Bellville, Parow and Milnerton. The consulting engineers on the project are from Gibb and the principal contractors include BT Cape, Darson Construction and Coreline.

Walker said the infrastructure is of carrier-class standard and will make Cape Town one of the most wired cities in Africa. “This will have a major impact on the growth and employment potential of the local economy. Internationally, municipal investment in fibre cables is recognised as the best way to spread high speed telecommunications as it provides a common infrastructure that any licensed company can use.”

According to Leon van Wyk, Department Head: Telecommunications for the City of Cape Town, cities are used to investing in roads and other kinds of infrastructure, especially when they want to encourage development in poorer communities. These days, telecommunications is no different. Other South African cities are also investing in municipal telecommunication projects, such as eThekwini(Durban), the City of Johannesburg, as well as some smaller towns.”

The principal objectives behind the project are to improve the bandwidth available to the City at an affordable cost, whilst also encouraging local economic development. “The new cables will give City buildings over a thousand times more bandwidth than we have at present. This is critical if we are to start using new tools and systems to manage better and support the delivery of services. Without adequate bandwidth, a modern city just cannot function,” Van Wyk said.

The City will use its new network to link employees to central computer systems such as the SAP and GIS systems, carry internal voice calls, provide managers with video conferencing and monitor public security cameras. The public access computers in public libraries will also benefit – the Central Library on Grand Parade will be one of the first buildings to be connected.

A further advantage is that the project will reduce the amount of trenching that would otherwise have happened in the Cape Town area. “In some parts of town there is just not enough space beneath the pavements to put any more cable ducts. And we must leave space to accommodate future requirements for water, sanitation and electricity. Instead of laying their own cables, telecoms companies can now use ours,” said van Wyk.

A by-law that will oblige telecoms operators to share infrastructure where possible, will be published for comment within the next few weeks.

Van Wyk highlighted that the City did not start this project in order to operate its own telephone company. “It is not our intention to displace or compete with the private sector. Instead, we will provide the basic infrastructure, and contract with telecommunication companies to make use of it to provide us with the internal telecommunications services that we need.”

New tariffs were recently approved by Council that will allow local telecommunications companies to make use of spare infrastructure capacity. These tariffs have been designed to help operators expand their services and reduce costs by introducing more competition. “The biggest cost is digging the trenches and installing the ducts that carry the cables; the optic fibre itself costs relatively little. Installing more fibre than we need right now makes long term economic sense, especially since the economic life of a cable is in excess of 20 years. The cost savings and revenue that we derive from this will help to offset the initial capital cost,” said Van Wyk.

The initial R125 million capital investment of Phase 1 of the project is in fact a relatively small amount compared with the City’s current telecommunication bill. “The only way that we could afford the bandwidth that the City needs is to provide it ourselves. The savings will pay for the investment within seven years. The benefits to the local economy are on top of this. We also hope to spread the cost over as many users as possible, including possibly the Provincial Government.”

The next step is to complete the Southern route which will include Plumstead and Claremont. This was part of the original Phase 1 that was approved by Council in October 2008, however this was excluded from Phase 1 due to budget constraints. The next step is to obtain funding for the Southern route and then subsequently to seek Council approval for Phase 2. The City has approximately 600 buildings and even more significant cost savings will be realised by connecting as many buildings as is viable to the Metro Area Network.

In the long term the City plans to extend the fibre network as far as Atlantis, Somerset West and Simon’s Town. The intention is also to benefit previously disadvantaged areas such as, for example, Khayelitsha, Athlone and Mitchells Plain with the Metro Area Network, however the areas to be included in the network in the long term have not been decided upon yet. Switching Centres will be built as and where required to provide an effective and sustainable Metro Area Network.

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