MTN’s Supersonic eyes township broadband roll-out

Calvin Collett, MD of Supersonic, the new fibre-to-the-home provider in the MTN South Africa stable, believes there is a big business opportunity to roll out broadband infrastructure in South Africa’s townships.

Hot on the heels of announcements by Vumatel and Vox’s Frogfoot that they are eyeing townships as part of their expansion plans, Collett said Supersonic is also keen to expand in these areas but may take a different approach to its rivals, preferring a mixture of fixed-line fibre and wireless last-mile technologies. Until now, home fibre providers have tended to focus on the more well-to-do suburbs in South Africa’s main cities.

Collett said at a press conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday that Supersonic is “definitely” keen to roll out broadband in townships. “We see a combined fibre and fixed-wireless offering in townships, but most certainly we are keen.”

He said it’s too early to discuss Supersonic’s plans in any detail, however.The only way South Africa will be competitive in the so-called fourth Industrial Revolution, he said, is to “make broadband Internet available to everyone, and not just an elite few. We have to take the Internet to everybody.”

Supersonic has put new fibre roll-out on hold, pending the finalisation of its strategy. “We are looking for different technologies that complement and supplement fibre roll-out and different areas to roll out fibre,” he said. “But we have a very clear strategy in terms of how we see broadband (roll-out taking place).”

In an interview with TechCentral earlier this month, Vumatel CEO Dietlof Mare said the company had started rolling out fibre broadband in Mitchell’s Plain, a sprawling suburb in the Cape Flats outside Cape Town, while at the same time was finally gearing up to begin a roll-out of fibre in the impoverished Johannesburg suburb of Alexandra (listen to the podcast).

Soweto

Vumatel is also looking at Soweto as a market opportunity. Rival Frogfoot recently announced plans to deploy infrastructure in the sprawling township south-west of Johannesburg, but Mare said the size of Soweto would allow for multiple home fibre operators to build networks. “We will go there — there are so many houses to do,” he said.

Supersonic was created following MTN’s acquisition a couple of years ago of fibre broadband provider Smart Village. MTN’s fibre infrastructure business was folded into this entity and Collett was headhunted to spearhead the creation of a full-fibre Internet service provider.

Despite MTN being predominantly a mobile operator, he said fixed line “is going to be a crucial part of the entire ecosystem within a home”.

“We wanted to be linked to MTN, but not part of MTN. We wanted the nimbleness and agility to compete in this space. We stuck with MTN yellow as the base line and came up with the payoff line ‘Brightened by MTN’. We made it more fun and youthful. This gave us the distance from the mothership to be agile enough but still leverage the brand at the end of the day.”

The company has focused on making the Internet as easy to use as possible, including initial setup. The company sends technicians to people’s homes to make sure they have the ideal Wi-Fi setup, without dead spots, by deploying mesh networking-based Wi-Fi extenders (up to three extenders are included as part of the installation). A smartphone app allows users to control their home networks, see what is connected to each extender “pod”, block access to certain content, create guest accounts, see bandwidth utilisation per connected device and even to freeze access to specific devices. “You are also alerted automatically when your Internet goes down, so you can log a ticket.”

The company now plans to begin working more closely with MTN and, in the next few months, Supersonic products will be available through the mobile operator’s retail stores. “It’s the right time to start integrating our solution into the MTN base,” he said.Supersonic is also making use of instant messaging apps like WhatsApp to allow customers to interact directly with its call centre agents without having to phone in. More than two-thirds of customer interacts now take place this way, Collett said, saving both customers’ and support agents’ time.

Consolidation

Collett said there is likely to be significant consolidation in the fibre ISP market soon. About 100 ISPs serve the market, and only about 65 of these have more than a thousand customers. “Smaller ISPs are struggling to make it. The magical number is around 20 000 customers to have a successful fibre ISP. You can either get there through acquisitions or through organic growth. A couple of ISPs have actively put themselves up for sale. Other ISPs are approaching us to sell their bases. So, consolidation is already happening.”

Consolidation in the fibre infrastructure market is likely, too, but to a smaller degree, he added. “Infrastructure is so complicated that unless they built really good networks, it’s often cheaper to rebuild than to try and fix it. Consolidation in the fixed network operator space will happen, but it’s a lot more complex.”

Source: NewsCentral Media