Growing demands for better connectivity mean property developers are starting to view fibre as just as crucial as water or electricity when building new complexes and office parks.

Wiredscore – a global ratings agency for digital connectivity in commercial real estate – recently highlighted a shift in responsibility from internet service providers to landlords and property owners as the demand for good connectivity intensifies.

As smart homes and cities start to proliferate across the globe, this is becoming just as true for residential property with access to broadband becoming a major selling point; and South Africa is no exception.

Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) CEO Thinus Mulder points out that with its fast speeds and low latency, the type of broadband connectivity that is in highest demand is fibre. “In fact, according to research firm Africa Analysis, when it comes to fixed broadband connectivity, fibre to the anywhere (FTTx) will be the most common type of connectivity within the next two years; in a few years it will all have but replaced connections such as ADSL,” says Mulder.

Shaun Barkhuizen, CEO of SA Digital Villages indicates that connectivity is definitely becoming more of a selling point for properties.

“In the recent past, developers were less educated about the benefits of ensuring that connectivity is there before even beginning to market the properties. However, the drive by the various telcos and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to install fibre has led to an increasing number of these players not only realising the value it offers, but actually demanding that it be ‘baked into’ the design of new buildings, complexes and office parks,” he says.

“In my opinion, it is very important to do this, as by bringing the connectivity in from outset – and it only requires a little more planning and foresight to extend such services into a complex or office park – the benefits to the developer will be significant.”

Mulder says this is something that DFA has been working towards. “It is about ensuring the fibre network is as widely available as possible, so that it is much simpler to take connectivity right into new developments.”

He adds that moreover, since DFA is an open access provider, the end customer can still choose which ISP they want to obtain their services from. “This has created healthy competition on a services level amongst connectivity providers to the benefit of customers, ” he says.

It is clear that a lot of the demand is being driven by the general public, suggests Juanita Clark, chief executive of the FTTX Council, pointing out that over the last five years, high speed connectivity has become increasingly important to individuals. Today, she says, for most people the question is not really if they want an Internet connection, but rather if the Internet connection they have is sufficient.

“Therefore, the bigger question today is what speed do I need? Consider for a moment security and the ability to keep an eye on your home from anywhere. This technology is possible, however live video streaming is bandwidth intensive and requires a strong and stable connection. Or what about the large family that has to take into consideration the amount of connected devices, not to mention that if there are teenagers in the family, they will likely want to stream videos and play online games,” she says.

“This is where fibre optic broadband becomes critical infrastructure, as it has unlimited capacity to accommodate both current and future connectivity needs. This is one major reason why residents are increasingly looking for homes in areas that are fibre-ready.”

Getting smart

Clark explains that in the last couple of years, there has been a significant increase in awareness from property developers to include telecommunications infrastructure as part of the original architecture. Regrettably, there was a period where telecommunications ducts were not deployed in developments as most assumed that the future of telecoms would be wireless.

“Today, of course, we know that fibre is a critical component of any form of telecommunications networks, even the wireless ones. Unfortunately, this also means that roads must now be dug up to place ducts to accommodate the fibre. However, once this is in place, it has a positive impact on property prices and allows residents and communities to benefit from all the incredible benefits that fibre provides,” she says.

Barkhuizen adds that in fact today, many of the professional services providers, like civil engineers and architects, are engaging with property developers with a view to building fibre connectivity into their planning from the get-go.

“There is also a growing move to drive such connectivity into lower cost areas as well, as part of the desire to bridge the digital divide. Obviously, we need to make the business case sustainable, so it is really about finding the sweet spot where we can enable the majority to have this kind of access while still delivering services that are financially sustainable to the provider.”

Clark agrees that operators have managed to come up with cost effective solutions that allow them to provide a connection at an incredibly reasonable price – even in low LSM areas. However this kind of solution requires a thinking that is not in line with traditional ways of deploying infrastructure.

“What is being considered are other deployment methodologies that eliminate the expensive underground placement. Aerial fibre is a lot more cost efficient, as it uses existing infrastructure like street lights to further reduce the cost. The only consideration here is that this relies on municipal buy-in, which can be a slow and cumbersome process.”

DFA’s Mulder says that the rise of fibre will not only improve things like home entertainment, but will also provide a significant platform for up and coming entrepreneurs who are trying to build digital businesses.

“It will certainly make the concept of working from home much simpler, because connectivity will be improved and latency reduced. Fibre is critical for this, as it offers far better connections than other forms of broadband. Also, if you look at the new breed of mobile professional, these workers want their office to be able to follow them, which means constant connectivity is vital. Any form of unified communications ultimately requires the kind of connectivity only fibre can deliver.

“Other benefits fibre will provide include new services like smart meters, smart irrigation and smart security. As fibre permeates society, we will witness a much greater demand for smart services like this. And of course, as additional services are consumed, so the demand for bandwidth will continue to increase too – and fibre really is the only answer to this growing hunger for ever more connectivity,” concludes Mulder.