Public was never told of seriousness of rollout disruptions

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

Disruptions to city roads are set to increase as operators pick up the pace of fibre optic network rollouts.

MTN joined Vodacom, Telkom and Neotel in the deployment of the first of its new fibre infrastructure on Friday.

Tim Lowry, MTN SA managing director, said: "We will be placing orders of R7 billion this year. Some of them will only be realised next year."

The first leg of MTN's installations will initially be targeted at the key metropolitan areas of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban and will cost the company an estimated R130 million.

The company will also spend R250 million on a new fibre network in stadiums and hotels for the 2010 World Cup.

A further R1,4 billion 5 000km national network will follow in a partnership between MTN and Neotel.

Imran Abbas, head of network deployment at Neotel, said: "We've already begun our rollout in Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. In Gauteng alone, we have over 1 000km, and over the next 12 months, we are aiming at adding an additional 800km."

But what of road users and pedestrians who are affected by the digging all around the country? Johannesburg Metropolitan councillor Denis Hunt said while contractors were causing damage to roads, they did not follow a complete process of warning residents about the extent of the disruptions.

Hunt said: "The whole thing is a shambles. Pavements and roads are being destroyed and not being repaired in good time. People were not consulted at all.

"If people get injured, they'd have to file a lawsuit, which would be expensive. They'd have to prove that the accident was a result of the damaged road, which is not always easy," Hunt added.

Network operators have hired a handful of contractors to undertake the extensive job of laying fibre across the country. Some of the major contractors working are Muvoni Weltex, Plessey (Dimension Data's telecommunication unit) and Nokia-Siemens.

Eugene Slabbert, Muvoni Weltex chief executive, confirmed that residents were complaining about damaged roads. "There has been some negativity, and we've also had delays in repairing the roads. It's a new process, and people are complaining, but we try to be as helpful as possible."

Muvoni has invested over R100 million on capacity and specialised equipment including eight mechanised trenching machines that grind the top layer of tar to make way for fibre ducts.

Muvoni is working on Dark Fibre Africa, and infrastructure provider that will lease it's network to licensed network operators.