South Africa’s high-speed fibre optic Internet backbone has improved to the point where some half a million homes have ready access to fibre.
With remote working powered by FTTH (fibre-to-the-home) likely to become a more permanent feature of a corporate SA adjusting to new realities, many more employees need a better understanding of the fibre that is enabling their income, their children’s education and even their Zoom-based socialising.
The need for nuts and bolts education around fibre and the speedy home WiFi that it enables is underscored by the fact that a recent survey by Giant Leap found that 81% of South African workers felt that remote working made work communication harder.
“Ten of thousands of office workers who previously had on-site access to IT professionals to immediately troubleshoot any Internet-based issues are now working from home with only their own understanding of fibre and home WiFi to rely on,” says Guy Halse, ISPA co-chair.
“High-speed FTTH is evolving from a luxury to a utility for a steadily-increasing number of people,” says Halse.
When it comes to getting to grips with this relatively new technology, consumers firstly need to know who to contact when things go awry. This will enable them to get the best out of lightning-fast, fibre-based broadband.
Usually, the ISP is the consumer-facing entity and will address queries regarding fibre access packages and any other value-added services offered on top of Internet access.
The relationship with ISPs begins when consumers see fibre being trenched. The consumer typically does some research and selects one of many competing ISPs to order the fibre being rolled-out in their area by network operators.
Once the customer has made their choice of ISP and network operator, the ISP will contact a fibre network installer to go to the customer’s home and provide a connection from the network operator’s newly-laid fibre network to somewhere inside the home.
Consumers should note that ISPs cannot fix issues related to the coverage area, fibre breaks and inferior fibre installations because these are entirely within the control of the network operator. If these issues occur, your ISP will escalate them to the network provider for resolution.
Next, ISPA says there are certain fundamentals that FTTH customers should understand if they are to experience hassle-free Wi-Fi.
For instance, WiFi networks vary in range and home users often report that their devices cannot pick up the Internet signal broadcast from their newly-installed wireless routers.
This is because WiFi uses radio waves and they degrade as one moves away from their source. A fibre-based home wireless hotspot centred on a router should adequately serve an average-sized family home on a reasonably-sized plot.
If the WiFi signals received by the connected devices located around your home are weak, the first step is to try reposition the router. Place it in the centre of the dwelling, away from thick walls, tin roofs and structural steel. Remember that older routers have a shorter effective range than newer devices. Also, anything using radio waves to function, like microwave ovens and baby monitors, can impact your home WiFi signal.
Consider rotating the router and generally tweaking the angle of the router’s antennas if you’re not getting the signal strength you need. It’s useful here to walk around the property watching the WiFi signal strength icon on your smartphone while someone adjusts the antenna angle. There are also WiFi survey apps available that make this easier.
Generally, remember that a WiFi signal weakens every time it encounters an obstruction and that steel and brick have more impact than wood or glass.
If you’re connected to your WiFi network but speeds remain slow, you may want to double-check what data package you chose from your ISP. Spending a little extra on a higher capacity package could eliminate a lot of frustration, especially during lockdown.
Finally, should there be a sudden loss of Internet connectivity, a useful approach is to firstly examine the indicator lights on the wireless router which could point to a potential obvious problem like a loose Ethernet cable.
Next, use your smartphone to log onto your network operator’s website to see if their fibre network is down. Network operators usually indicate their network’s status prominently on their home pages. If that fails, call or email your ISP – it often helps to include clear photos of the lights on your router and fibre wall box.