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Opinion piece: Redefining ‘open access’ for fibre networks in South Africa

09 January 2018

Everyone wants high-speed fibre connectivity and providers are jostling to get fibre into the ground and to the door of businesses and residential customers. The fastest route to a return on these fibre investments is to allow open access, enabling multiple ISPs and telecoms providers to use it to provide services, however, it has become messy. Reflex Solutions, a Jasco company, offers an advanced virtual access model which brings relief to the market—benefitting all stakeholders, from fibre owners to end users and their ISPs.


Says Greg Wilson, CEO of IT, Carrier Solutions, networking and telephony provider Reflex Solutions: “With fibre provision riding a growing demand curve in South Africa, the models used to connect end users to services are proving a differentiator. The original model, which accommodates all comers and leaves technical aspects (such as plugging into the network) up to each ISP, is proving less than efficient. Our model, which relies on solid infrastructure, automation, aggregation and networking expertise, is changing the definition of ‘open access’.


Reflex Solutions’ open access interconnect model simplifies infrastructure management by aggregating the Fibre Networks and ISPs.  This virtualises service management for ISPs and Fibre Operators alike. “It is not only being adopted by all the leading fibre providers—we count Vumatel, Maboneng Broadband and Evotel as our clients — it’s being applauded by ISPs. It also offers end users considerable cost, service provider choice and service level advantages,” says Wilson.


The old ‘open access’ model


Why is the all-comer access model not working? “When every ISP that offers a service on a specific fibre network has to connect into that network with its own equipment, light the fibre up and install on-premises equipment at the client to deliver the service - things can get really complex,” Wilson explains. “It makes services costly and often unreliable as the cost to deploy all the belts and braces becomes inhibitive, and is a big headache for the fibre owner who has to manage multiple ISP interconnects.”


Using the all-comer model, getting connected becomes a costly investment for ISPs requiring networking and technology expertise, as well as feet on the ground to service the client. That cost is passed on to the customer. The process is time consuming and time to deliver the service can be excessive. In addition, depending on the capabilities of the ISP, service levels can vary.


Notes Wilson: “For facility owners—e.g., of a residential or business park—and for users, an all-comer open access model often means that in addition to costly and erratic service, service offerings are likely to be limited. ISPs often find the investment needed to connect to the network too high, especially when there are limited end users that can be served and a number of ISPs are already servicing them.


“Our more advanced open access model removes many of these challenges by providing a single ‘doorway’ and high-level infrastructure management services.”


Automation – the next wave


The next wave in the industry is for ISP’s to automate their processes by integrating their systems into the fibre operators’ systems. The workload with all the varied systems out there is immense and something single ISP’s will battle to tackle alone. Through our API platform, we provide a single point of integration for all parties. This will speed up integration and integration will mean faster connecting up of subscribers with fewer faults!


True open access – insist on it!


Reflex Solutions’ open access model is built on its network expertise. With over a decade of experience in the market, a large infrastructure portfolio and a strong team of professionals, the company has the capability to roll out fibre networks, connect new fibre networks into datacentres, and provide users with connectivity. It also enables ISPs to interconnect rapidly to this infrastructure.


Open access is only open access if:


  • It gives subscribers a wide choice of service providers on an equal footing.

  • It is more cost-effective than an ad-hoc service delivered by the service provider directly to the end user.

  • Is pre-installed and delivers fast lead times to end users.

  • Interconnect point is at a carrier-neutral data centre where the majority of service providers already have a presence.

  • There must be a published service rate card and services must be available day one (no empty promises).


“In essence, our open access model provides an intermediate layer of infrastructure control that allows ISPs and service providers to simply plug into the network and do what they do best—provide services,” says Wilson. “We provide the technical capability, installing our equipment to light the fibre up and providing backhaul and interconnect services. This not only removes the pain of connecting, it ensures users get the service they pay for – full uncontended throughput.”


Reflex Solutions also makes service provisioning easy for ISPs. “We offer virtual service management capabilities,” explains Wilson. “This means the ISP no longer has to physically make changes to customer premises equipment when customers request new services or change their service selection; our virtual service management application allows the ISP to simply switch the requested services on or off virtually — we do the rest.”


The benefits of the evolved open access model are clearly significant:


Gives ISPs rapid, easy access to the fibre network

Lowers the cost of connectivity to end subscribers (by up to 50%)

Speeds time to service delivery

Ensures a wider variety of services at a better cost

Takes care of backhaul services

Improves consistency and reliability of services


Says Wilson: “For fibre providers, this model is highly beneficial. It outsources the infrastructure management to experts which means they can onboard more ISPs and more subscribers, delivering a high level of service to both and a lower cost of entry. This will attract more users and, ultimately, deliver faster ROI for the fibre owner.  With growth for the big fibre providers currently accelerating faster than that for the top five telcos, this evolution of the open access model is the future.”