Icasa mulls four options for unbundling the local loop

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has proposed four models for unbundling the fixed-line local loop, which would give Telkom’s rivals access to the company’s “last mile” of copper cable infrastructure.

Unbundling is seen as an important way of promoting competition in broadband and potentially driving down prices.

The first option mooted by Icasa is “bitstream” or wholesale access. This option doesn’t entail unbundling of the physical copper cable infrastructure, but rather Telkom providing other operators with access on a wholesale basis. Rivals won’t have access to Telkom’s network infrastructure, so it’s an option that the fixed-line incumbent may prefer.

In its discussion document, Icasa says the advantage of bitstream access is that it won’t “hinder any progressive modernisation of the local access network by replacing copper cables with fibre cables”.

The second option Icasa has proposed is line sharing, or shared access to the local loop. In this model, Telkom and companies seeking access its local loop can share the same line where both provide different services such as voice and data on the same loop.

“In this situation, consumers can acquire data services from facilities seekers [other operators] while retaining the voice services of the facilities provider [Telkom]. Some facilities seekers may choose to offer data services only, so with line sharing customers can retain their facilities provider for voice calls while getting higher bandwidth services from another operator without the need to install a second line,” Icasa says.

Technically, the authority explains, a splitter is installed in the “main distribution frame” that separates the frequencies for voice telephony and those for higher bandwidth services. “Line sharing allows the facilities seeker to provide the service of their choice by covering either low-frequency bands or high-frequency bands,” it says. “When one frequency band is occupied by one operator, the other frequency band can be occupied by another operator.”

Icasa says this option would broaden choices available to consumers as they could choose Telkom as their voice provider while at the same time choosing a new entrant, or any other operator, as the provider of broadband internet services over the same loop.

The third option that Icasa has tabled is full local-loop unbundling, or full access. This assigns the entire copper local loop to rival operators. In this model, other operators may place all required equipment inside or outside Telkom’s premises. Rival operators take over the full operation of the local loop allocated to them.

The final option is sub-loop unbundling, where Telkom’s rivals get access to its “primary connection point” at street level. This form of unbundling is more suited to new forms of digital subscriber line technology, such as very high-speed DSL.

In this model, Telkom’s rivals would provide their own networks all the way to the primary connection point. They locate their equipment adjacent to the connection point rather than in Telkom’s telephone exchanges. In all other respects, sub-loop unbundling is analogous to full local-loop unbundling.

Icasa has said it should complete regulations for unbundling by no later than November, after it has consulted with industry stakeholders. Communications minister Roy Padayachie has said previously that he wants unbundling to be completed by that date. — TechCentral

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