The light pipeline


Widely used in communications, optical fibre technology permits transmission over
longer distances and at higher bandwidths (data rates) than other forms of

An optical fibre is a flexible, transparent fibre made of pure glass (silica) not much
thicker than a human hair. It functions as a light pipeline or waveguide, to transmit
light between the two ends of the fibre. The field of applied science and engineering
concerned with the design and application of optical fibres is known as fibre optics.

While it is well known that fibre optic technology is widely used in South Africa, there
is confusion as to its exact application, giving rise to questions such as: “When will I
be able to have a fibre optic connection with millions of gigabytes in my home?’

Fibre optic networks have been used locally for many years and the applications and
development of this form of communication are growing all the time. All South Africa’s
major telephone network service suppliers are big users of fibre optic networks.
Neotel’s executive head of technology Dr Angus Hay claims to be ahead of the field.
“Fibre is Neotel’s lifeblood,’ he states, “and we are the leading player. While all the
other providers are doing similar things, we are the only provider that is able to offer
a full end to end solution. We also offer the most cost effective solution.’

Who else uses fibre other than telecommunications companies? The answer is plenty
of companies and usage is growing all the time. Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) was
established for the sole purpose of building and managing a nationwide carrier
neutral, “Open Access’ ducting infrastructure. This infrastructure is then made
available to all licensed operators, on an equal basis, enabling them to implement
their own fibre optic transmission infrastructure.

“Bigger and better’

DFA’s Ivor van Rensburg claims fibre is less expensive, has a higher carrying capacity,
suffers from less signal degradation, is non-flammable, lightweight, has little or no
black market value and is “bigger and better’ than other wireless technologies. Fibre
links offer over 1 000 times as much bandwidth over distances over 100 times further.

Other big users of fibre include Telemedia, LaserNet and GlobeCast. LaserNet’s Ivan
Bridgens comments: “LaserNet uses various technologies to transmit data across its
network. This includes laser technology for short distances, radio technology for quick
deployment of anything from 10mbps up to 300mbps and we use fibre for high
availability, low latency, big bandwidth deployments for our real time service. We will
also use fibre as a primary connection and radio as a redundant connection if the fibre
fails for any reason.’

GlobeCast’s Alan Hird comments: “As a global group we’ve been building and
expanding our GlobeCast Backbone Network (GCBN) for years. It’s a DTM network with
92 000kms of fibre reaching over 30 points of presence, including Nairobi and

“On top of that, on a South African level, we run a domestic fibre network that is
linked into a number of networks including Dark Fibre, Neotel, BCX (ICT network
Service Provider) and Vodacom.’

Pay-TV application

South African satellite pay-TV platform TopTV uses fibre to feed local channels as well
as data and promos to its uplink centre in Germany.

Says TopTV’s Frans Lindeque: “We also get low resolution feeds back from Germany
for evaluation here. In addition we use four fibre feeds in Europe mainly from the UK
to Germany, as well as one from Norway to Germany. Europe feeds are all video
(channel feeds).

“The most recent installation in April 2012 was a feed for a channel called MCA (Movie
Channel Africa) also from the UK to Germany. Fibre is reliable and cheaper than
satellite. Its access however is somewhat limited when compared with satellite.’

Sasani Studios facilities engineer Kim Smith observes: “Over a number of years Sasani
Studios (formerly ZSE TV) used fibre on site, originally for data and more recently for
standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) video as well as audio signals.

“Our new routing matrix has fibre I/O. The external networks include Telkom, Neotel
and Dark Fibre connectivity onto our site which is used for a number of purposes both
data and video. We use the video fibre for live transmissions to M-Net, SABC and’


Says Quentin Barkhuizen, national sales manager, Telemedia: “We have built our own
fibre network for uncompressed video contributions circuits between the major
broadcasters and production houses.

“Telemedia has also added IP data along some of these paths for remote monitoring
purposes. Recent installations include Summit TV and, both of which have now
been connected to the network.’

“It’s clear,’ says LaserNet’s Bridgens, “that it is not the best interest of the operators
to invest in the last mile networks because the return on investment would take many
years and would not be a good business decision unless it was strategic.

“The cost to roll out is expensive and deployment of other wireless technologies
would be easier and quicker. ICASA legislation is holding up progress in wireless
license bands at the moment so roll out to the home is still a stumbling block.’


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