Johannesburg residents can look forward to high-speed fibre connections as soon as this time next year when the City of Johannesburg’s (CoJ’s) 900km fibre optic network opens up to commercial use.

Willie Olivier, chief technical officer of Bwired, which is partnering with CoJ and Ericsson to roll out the network, says about 85% of the fibre installation is already complete and some city offices are connected.

The project’s three-year build phase will be completed by May 2013, at which stage commercial roll-out can begin.

Olivier points out that the network has two functions: to connect City of Johannesburg offices more efficiently and cost-effectively; and to offer new and affordable broadband services to residents.

Affordability is a big issue for the city’s network. Bwired won’t provide services into the home themselves, but will sell wholesale capacity to service providers – and encourage them to pass the cost savings on to users, says Olivier.

A more tangible benefit of the network, however, is expected to come from the city’s own use of it.

The single fibre network consolidates the 30 to 40 networks currently serving various municipal offices around the city, offering cast savings as well as improved communications and integration.

In addition, says Olivier, it forms the basis of a smart city initiative that could see Johannesburg radically improving its service delivery to citizens.

Services such as integrated traffic management, education and e-health initiatives could become a reality once the high-speed network rolls out.

Bwired and Ericsson are working with the relevant education departments to aggregate content to be delivered via the network, Olivier adds