Plessey to lay optical fibre enabling broadband access for SA towns


Image: By BiztechAfrica
Plessey to lay optical fibre enabling broadband access for SA towns

Plessey, Africa’s leading provider of turnkey telecommunications infrastructure solutions, has been awarded a contract for equipping Emalahleni (formerly Witbank) and Middelburg with fibre optical infrastructure for broadband access by February 2013.

Emalahleni lies at the heart of South Africa’s ‘energy mecca’, being surrounded by most of the country’s coal deposits as well as most of South Africa’s coal-fired power stations. Middelburg hosts Africa’s only producer of stainless steel flat products. The two towns therefore constitute an important commercial centre for the country.

The fibre optic infrastructure project for the towns is part of a 3.5 bn national network that is being constructed over the next several years to provide broadband access to under-serviced areas and will involve laying some 121 kms of optical fibre in a ring around each town and in a link that connects them. The project will increase bandwidth for broadband users in the two towns and reduce Internet connectivity costs significantly.

“We always welcome being involved in projects that bring South African towns and cities into the digital age because we believe that increased broadband access is key to the rise of Africa,” says Plessey COO, Howard Earley. “Affordable communication capabilities have been shown to be directly linked to an increase in GDP and there is no doubt that local government service delivery improves with broadband access, as do health and education services.”

All Plessey projects are empowerment focused, using local sub-contractors wherever possible. Where the special skills and experience of Plessey sub-contractors are needed, local labourers work under Plessey staff.

The Emalahleni and Middelburg infrastructure project involves digging trenches and installing ducts through which the optical fibre will run and be maintained. The project is complicated by the number of roads that have to be crossed by the cable, with municipalities generally preferring to have Plessey drill under their roads rather than slit them. There are 83 drill sites for Emalahleni alone.

“In order to avoid cutting through electricity and water services that usually lie next to or under roads, and because of the range of terrains in which our equipment must operate, we use a variety of purpose-specific types of equipment, each moved on to site at pre-arranged deadlines and operated only by people with specialised experience in their use,” Earley says.

“Planning and controlling the logistics and timescales of a project like this can be extremely challenging. But we’ve done this work for more than fifty years, we have a dedicated logistics department, and we have relationships with sub-contractors that have been built up over many projects all over the continent.

“So, we’re expecting this project to be completed in six months, even with the mandatory festive season break.”

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