The introduction of fibre-optic connections to homes and businesses in South Africa isn’t a mere incremental enhancement in the quality of our Internet connections, says Saurabh Kumar, MD at In2IT Technologies South Africa.
With speeds that are orders of magnitude faster than DSL, fibre will herald a radically different era – where new digital services become possible, and the ways that we live and work will change dramatically. The forthcoming transition to fibre cannot be compared to the shift from dial-up to DSL, or the gear changes over the past decade in mobile data that saw Edge replacing GSM, 3G replacing Edge, and HSPA replacing 3G. In short, moving into the fibre era does not simply mean “bigger, better Internet”, but rather, something totally new.
Fibre to the Home, or FTTH, literally makes super high speed internet (hundreds of megabytes per second) available from the wall socket as easily as an electricity plug point. It has been available to millions of consumers throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas for some years now. As South Africa stands on the cusp of FTTH, however, there are a number of other colliding technology trends that are reaching a tipping point – such as the Internet of Things (IoT), location-based services, and sophisticated multifunction sensors. These converging areas of technology will create limitless new opportunities that extend as far as the imagination can reach.
In 2014 we started seeing the first inklings of FTTH in South Africa. Fibre pilots in certain urban office parks garnered media attention and raised the awareness about the technology. New agreements were signed, organisations formed, and some unique engagements began to develop. In 2015, these fibre connections will begin to come on-stream in suburbs surrounding the country’s major urban hubs. More and more consumers will experience the wonders of fibre-optics in their living rooms, and a new market for packed “connected home” offerings will quickly emerge.
Alarms, locks, IP cameras, and security beams will be combined with entertainment services, geyser management, and systems that learn the best way to regulate temperate, ventilation and light. Niche services will start sprouting up – such as childcare services that monitor the environment, as well as transmitting video feeds, and detecting anything that parents need to act upon. In fact, in almost every area of our lives, we can imagine new applications for smart connected devices.
The Business equivalent of the connected home will see office parks and complexes benefitting from integrated, packaged solutions that will include enterprise-grade voice over IP (VoIP), access control, bundled cloud services, and true unified collaborations tools centered on High Definition (HD) video.
In reality, we are still only beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible with fibre. Manufacturing companies – for example – previously created products that were shipped off, with very little further information or interaction. Questions about how they performed, where the weak points were, and how they could be improved were very hard to answer.
Now, with connected devices underpinned by high-speed fibre, firms can get unprecedented access to information about supply chains, distribution networks, and even customer usage. Assembly line parts can automatically regulate each other to optimise each other’s efficiency, allowing the manufacturer to fine-tune their operation based on this data. New connected cars are able to send massive amounts of data back to the manufacturer, for them to better understand their customers and their product.
Beyond the home, and the office, are broader and more inclusive fields where fibre will play a critical role in the coming years. In South Africa, the concepts of e-learning and telemedicine have been visible only in isolated case studies so far. For truly paradigm-shifting advancements in these areas, fibre will be required. Along with new innovations in the broad realm of connected devices, new applications in e-learning and telemedicine will become a reality.
Fibre is a highly scalable technology, in that is doesn’t have finite ceilings of performance like DSL, for example. So, while the future remains impossible to predict, it seems a safe bet that the physical fibre investments being made today will not be obliterated by a new, better technology in the next few years.
Once the fibre is laid – to the home, the office, the hospital or the school – the aim of the game is to develop truly value-adding and transformative applications. A vibrant ecosystem of application developers will emerge, their creativity unleashed by superfast internet, resulting in exciting innovations that improve and enrich lives.