Connectivity is Key
Craig Carthy, Chief Executive Officer of Link Africa, talks us through one of South Africa’s fastest-growing providers of cost-effective, high-speed, open-access telecommunications infrastructure
Writer: Jack Salter | Project Manager: Lewis Bush
My view is that communications has evolved into a utility – you can’t live without it.”
Fibre optic is the future of broadband, technology which continues to develop in correlation with increased demand for networking speed and efficiency.
As such, an increasing number of developing countries have stepped up the deployment of fibre optic networks in order to build better ICT infrastructure and stimulate economic development.
Aiming to become South Africa’s largest open-access provider of high-speed broadband services, Link Africa has built, owned and operated fibre optic networks in major metropolitan cities across the country since 2013.
From Pretoria and Johannesburg to Cape Town and Durban, Link Africa has a strong fibre footprint that allows consumers to choose their preferred Internet Service Provider (ISP).
“South Africa is a bit of an outlier because it’s significantly wealthier than the rest of the African continent,” observes Chief Executive Officer, Craig Carthy, who has an extensive background in ICT and telecommunications. “The sector here in South Africa is probably as sophisticated, mature and robust as you would find it in Europe, which is not representative of what you find in the rest of Africa.”
With the communications sector experiencing tremendous growth, Link Africa is capitalising on exciting opportunities in South Africa.
“We’ve got roughly 14 million houses in South Africa, of which 12 million rely entirely on cell phone connectivity. It’s a bit of a strange market, but we have the opportunity as a dominant player of getting communications to become a utility just like it is in the developed world.”
Utilising light to transfer data through means of glass cabling, Link Africa’s innovative and patented open-access infrastructure provides the fastest and most reliable internet connectivity currently available on the market.
Link Africa has the exclusive South African rights to Fibre Optic Cable in Underground Systems (FOCUS™), a patented fibre optic cable technology deployed in storm water and sewer systems.
Through the deployment of FOCUS™ technology, Link Africa uses sewage networks to run fibre cabling through existing infrastructure.
“The patent enables us to insert cables into sewage pipes, which we use as a sleeve or a conduit,” Carthy explains. “The very basis is that somebody else has put a pipe in the ground, and we just stick our cable inside that pipe.
“It means it’s substantially faster for us to install cables because there’s no digging involved, it’s more reliable because sewage pipes are very deep in the ground, a lot thicker than a piece of plastic, and it’s substantially cheaper to install than it would be doing it the conventional way.”
Infrastructure aside, Link Africa, who employs around 300 people, relies on its staff and downstream partners to make haste towards its belief in country-wide open access to its fibre network.
“Partners are really important for us because we have a collaborative view of the world,” Carthy emphasises. “We don’t try and do everything ourselves, we know what we’re good and what we’re not so good at, so we work with partners whose specific strengths in certain geographical areas enable us to commercialise and operate this very big network that we’ve got. It’s a really important part of the way that we look at the world.”
Universal access means making the whole Link Africa network available to all people in all metropolitan areas, as well as surrounding towns.
To reach all citizens of the country, rich or poor, Link Africa’s vision is to make high-speed telecommunications infrastructure available to all licensed operators and service providers. With an existing network of infrastructure that currently only runs at around eight percent capacity, Link Africa certainly has the potential to do just that.
“We just focus entirely on the infrastructure side of the telecoms value chain, and we service those who are licensed to provide communication services,” Carthy outlines. “We use the same infrastructure to provide services to all three segments – mobile phone operators, business, and residential – and we take care of three of the world’s top 10 telecommunications companies.”
Link Africa is the biggest service provider for Dimension Data, an information technology subsidiary based in Johannesburg wholly owned by NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone), as well as servicing the likes of Vodafone and MTN, the largest mobile network operator in Africa.
As the beneficiary of a 10-year contract with NTT, Link Africa is now the Japanese telecommunications company’s preferred communications service provider in South Africa all the way until June 2030.
“Not only does this contract get us very close to NTT, who are the third biggest telecoms company in the world, but it also gives us a large footprint in the commercial retail space here in South Africa,” reveals Carthy. “It was a great deal for us, and the contract really catapulted the business.”
Improved fibre coverage
The recent acquisition of Internet Solutions’ fibre optic network, which spans over 400 points of presence across South Africa, more than doubled Link Africa’s network reach to 8,500 kilometres, making the company one of the country’s biggest fibre network providers and allowing it to expand fibre into new, uncharted terrain.
Link Africa’s reach now rivals providers such as Openserve, Dark Fibre Africa and Liquid Telecoms, with the acquisition transforming the company into a key player in the South African fibre market.
It also provides a platform for Link Africa to expand GSM coverage across all provinces, to improve fibre coverage in most major commercial and retail centres across the country, and to help provide substantially more affordable fibre services.
Moreover, the deal leaves Link Africa strategically well-placed as 5G looms large on the horizon. “We expect to be very well placed to support mobile network operators in their 5G rollouts,” Carthy says.
Further to this, Link Africa is developing a pre-payment model to provide communication services to the less affluent.
“We effectively give pre-paid service to those who can’t afford to enter into fixed monthly commitments,” Carthy elaborates. “Along with our partner, a leading supplier of electricity to underserviced areas, we’ve developed this electricity/telecoms joint product solution over the last two years, and we’re very excited about launching that on a much larger scale in 2022.”
It’s clear that the fibre industry has the potential to accelerate the digital inclusion, economic growth, dynamism and ingenuity that Africa so desperately needs.
A key part of that is staring Link Africa right in the face – unleashing the economic power of the digital world by providing high-quality, reliable and affordable connectivity.