Tshwane gets Internet hubba hubba

The City of Tshwane is testing the delivery of broadband Internet and voice services on its new fibre-optic tele-communications network that blankets the entire metro.

The city has rolled out a backbone network that stretches from Midrand in the south to Hammanskraal in the north, Mamelodi in the east to Hartbeespoort dam in the west.

‘Currently [access to the network] is within 5km of any consumer in Tshwane,” said Martin van Helden, project manager for the Tshwane Digital Hub pilot projects. ‘When it is complete we will be 2km to 3km from any consumer.”

The network, which is expected to be complete by June next year, comprises 60 primary sub-stations, 150 secondary sub-stations and 25 wireless high sites.

Five wireless hot spots have already been identified for pilot projects to analyse how communities use ADSL. A high-density site in Centurion has been identified for one hot spot and anybody within a 5km radius will have free access to ADSL.

According to the head of the hub, Charles Kuun, the city will test the network via these pilots—eight of which have already been completed—and further tests will continue into next year.

‘We are trying to make a contribution.
You could say we have more courage than common sense, but we can see that there is a desperate need [for telecom services],” said Kuun. ‘We have a problem and we are tackling the problem head-on. It is an alternative service-delivery proposition.”

Kuun said the city’s motives for the roll-out of the network are to decrease the cost of doing business in Tshwane and to stimulate economic growth. He said the city is also looking at potential social benefits, such as in education where learners can stream selected educational television shows that are archived on the network.

Dave Gale, head of telecoms service provider Storm, confirmed that it was the chosen partner for the pilots and that all voice-over Internet protocol calls and ADSL connections were via its diginet line in Woodmead, Johannesburg.

‘Kuun’s dream is to drive telecoms costs down in Tshwane by 90%. Whether we are going to make it, I don’t know,” said Gale. ‘I have a feeling it will be more like 50%.”

Gale said results from tests on power-line communication have been ‘awesome” and that Storm is running tests that allow residents to simply plug a modem into a power socket and connect.

There are huge opportunities in municipal telecoms networks, he said, but because municipalities have little telecommunications experience they were very cautious and nervous in their approach.

Kuun said there was some concern in the municipality about how this should be handled. ‘We are not tele-communications people,” he said.

‘We are concerned that the community will rush us; we are trying to provide it on a small scale initially and if there is a gold rush then we will have to rethink how we are going to approach it,” said Kuun.

He said the city was prepared to work with any of the 204 registered value-added-network services and is waiting for entrepreneurs to approach it to take advantage of the opportunity.

One horse town turns high-tech

Residents of the one-horse town of Rooiwal, north of Tshwane, will be able to make free local calls and access broadband Internet via their power lines as part of the City of Tshwane’s telecommunications network pilot tests.

Tshwane’s current pilot is delivering ADSL broadband and voice-over Internet protocol (VOIP) services via power line communication to the town’s sole primary school, pub, library and town hall, as well as its 130 households.

Martin van Helden, project manager for the Tshwane Digital Hub pilot projects, says Rooiwal was chosen as a pilot site because the entire town is owned by the city, and the community mostly comprises employees of the Rooiwal power station.

Hendrick Jansen, chairperson of the town’s social club, says most residents are really excited about the prospect of accessing free local calls and ADSL at home.

‘It will be great, there are a lot of kids in the community who are still going to school. We have a small library, but ADSL will help a lot in giving the kids more access to resources,” says Jansen.

The city will deliver ADSL connectivity via its fibre-optic backbone network to the town’s three head-end units, which will convert the signals to the town’s power lines.

Nine repeaters, installed at various points along the power grid, then amplify the signal before returning it to the power line to ensure that the signal remains strong.

According to Van Helden, 64 users can access the ADSL connection per head-end unit, which means that 192 users can operate on the town’s network at any given time.

He says the network will be fully operational by next week and that customer premises equipment modems will be handed out in early January.

The modem, which usually retails at about R2 000, is a small box that plugs simultaneously into the back of a computer and into an electricity socket. Once plugged in, it takes about four minutes to connect to the network.

It is then possible to take any analogue phone and plug it into the modem to use it to make VOIP calls. The modem does the VOIP conversion itself and will allow Rooiwal residents to make free local calls on the network.

When residents need to make calls outside of the town, they will be connected via telecoms service provider Storm to Telkom, cellphone or international lines.

‘The pilot will run indefinitely,” says Van Helden. ‘When we are done it will become a commercially operated venture with an Internet service provider coming on board.”

Van Helden says, previous power line communication pilots were very successful, but these had been on a small scale, with only three or four houses, so the town of Rooiwal provided the perfect opportunity to test the technology on a larger scale.—Lloyd Gedye

Lloyd Gedye

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