Can we trust Fibre technology?

Fibre is the next generation of internet connectivity for homes and businesses. At the same time, it is a tried and tested technology. This sounds like two conflicting statements, however fibre has been around for a very long time. The only difference is that it has only recently become affordable for home use. Fibre internet has connected the continents through undersea cables for decades. Fibre was developed in the 1970s, and South-Africa received its first undersea fibre connection in the 1990s. When you use a cellphone tower, your singal is carried over the air to the cellphone tower, and from there on it runs on a fibre connection. Similarly when you use ADSL or your telephone line, the signal is carried over a copper cable to the nearest distribution box, and from there it runs on a fibre connection. When you go for a walk in Lynnwood there is a high probability that you are stepping over a fibre cable somewhere on your route. Fibre is what the entire internet is based on. If you access any website, your signal will travel over fibre for the majority of the route.

Why is Fibre better?

So fibre is a safe technology, but why do we need it? The answer to that problem lies in what is called the "last mile". Currently the last mile of internet connectivity is either through the air or over copper cables depending on what type of internet you have. The main drawback of air is that it is a shared resource. If you connect to the base station, you expect a certain speed. However the more people connect, the more people have to share that same air, and the slower your connection gets. If you have wireless you will know it gets slower in peak times (7am - 9pm approx.) and you will know that it gets much faster when you use it late at night or very early in the morning. With fibre you do not share your connection. Every house has its own dedicated fibre connection all for itself. With ADSL the shared resource is not as much of a problem. However, on Telkom networks the connection ratios are quite poor, so similar problems are observed during peak times. Connection ratios are how many people with a certain line speed share that line speed out of the neighbourhood. With ADSL the fact is that they connect too many people on the same distribution box, forcing users to share a connection onto the bigger network.

With both air and copper, there are problems that fibre do not experience. Copper and air transmissions attenuate much faster than over fibre. This means you can be much futher away from a distribution box when utilising fibre. Fibre is also immune to weather conditions, and electromagnetic interference. Fibre does not conduct electricity, so lightning will not affect your internet connection. Fibre signals run over a cable, unlike with wireless where the signal has to travel through the rain, reducing performance.

Why is Fibre cheaper?

Fibre is cheaper because of a few reasons. The first reason is that you can skip telkom. Telkom Fibre is not cheaper, open fibre is. Open fibre is an area where there is a lot of competition, so prices are as low as they can be, while service is as good as it can be. Current open fibre offerings beat the Telkom equivalent hands down on all fronts. The second reason is that you go from fibre, onto fibre. There is no costly last mile equipment. You dont have to convert your digital signal from your computer to a signal that runs over the air or copper, which is then converted to a signal that runs over fibre. All that equipment costs a lot of money to install and maintain, and with fibre you don't use it. Your signal is converted to a fibre signal directly. The third reason fibre is cheaper is because fibre itself is cheap. It is made from glass or plastic, and that piece of glass has the potential to carry huge amounts of data. No one would steal a fibre cable because it is so cheap. You cannot melt it and sell it for scrap, no one will buy a blob of glass because it is worthless.

How does fibre compare?

Below is a graph showing the current best wireless and ADSL technology available to us. I've searched for the cheapest Wirelss and ADSL deals, for a given speed and data use. So this is the best case ADSL and Wireless compared with an average Fibre offering. In other words this comparison is biased against Fibre in favour of ADSL and Wirless. Fibre still comes out on top. On this graph, lower on the y-axis (vertical, up-down) and to the right on the x-asix (horizontal, left-right) is better. Fibre is in red, at the bottom. The only time fibre is on top, is when the speed is so fast you won't know what to do with it (25x faster than the fastest ADSL, only 1.5x to 2.5x more expensive).

Cellular / Wireless

I have not included LTE, as far as I know LTE is not available in Lynnwood. Wireless service providers (Telkom Mobile, Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, RSA web, Axxess, etc.) offer 3G speeds, which is heavily dependent on your location, your signal strength and the time of day. If you are lucky you can get very fast speeds, most individuals get in the order of 6-7 Mbps. Wireless prices are only competitive if you use less than 5 GB a month (R200), otherwise fibre is the better option with a similarly priced package that provides 20 GB per month at 4 Mbps without any of the drawbacks of a wireless connection.

ADSL

Fibre is less expensive than ADSL, and it provides a better connection. Fibre gives higher speeds and more data as a similarly priced ADSL package. On this graph there are two uncapped solutions. The one is shaped and the other is unshaped. It appears if ADSL is competitive if you look at the shaped uncapped ADSL offerings. However shaped ADSL is very of very poor quality during times of peak demand (daytime). Shaping means your line is slowed down during periods when the network is moderately to heavily used. Your data is slowed down in favour of others who is on unshaped packages. ISPs decide which things to slow down based on the type of traffic. For example downloads, streaming video, music, skype calls, gaming etc. is considered low priority during peak hours. Shaped internet is often frustrating to use. The price of a shaped "uncapped" package hints at its actual value as can be seen from the graph below. A 4 Mbps line with a shaped uncapped account is similar in value to a 4 Mbps account capped at 100 GB. For more in depth details on ADSL ISP throttling, and shaping on uncapped accounts, read here. Don't let the buzzwords fool you. With fibre you can get uncapped & unshaped (no slow downs, no data prioritisation by the ISP, just full speed internet) at the same price a 4 Mbps ADSL shaped uncapped account would cost. Fibre beats ADSL hands down in all departments.

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