Mobile operator Safaricom is accelerating its aggressive plan to bring fiber-to-the-home to more residential customers across its homeland of Kenya.
An August announcement with Huawei tells only part of the operator's wireline story, which began about three years ago. In 2014, Safaricom piloted a 5 Mbit/s FTTH link that provided residential subscribers with download speeds of up to 100 Mbit/s. At that time, Internet service providers typically offered 1 Mbit/s or 2 Mbit/s services, according to local news site Kahawah Tungu. Safaricom's Vum@home service also cost less, the site reported.
This was one of Safaricom's first forays into FTTH, an infrastructure previously lacking for many of Kenya's households, said Thibaud Rerolle, director of technology at Safaricom, via an email interview with UBB2020.
"The fixed network segment in the country has historically been underserved and still remains underserved, with less than 72,000 connections serving more than 43 million Kenyans," he said. "This means that not only are many customers not connected, but also the infrastructure to connect them is absent."
Fiber to Nairobi's Homes
Nairobi is only one of the regions Safaricom targets with its expanding FTTH service.
In early 2016, Safaricom partnered with Kenya Power International to pilot FTTH in 12,000 homes for 12 months, according to local news reports. At that time, Safaricom had deployed a pilot, about to go live, to more than 3,200 km (almost 2,000 miles) of fiber to 7,000 residential customers, wrote TechWeez.com
. That pilot used Kenya Power cables, reducing both Safaricom's cost and time-to-deploy. Previously, Safaricom had dug its own cables -- an expenditure-intensive chore for all operators.
"The choice of fiber-to-the-home allows us to leapfrog technologies that have been deployed elsewhere and, as an alternative, opt for a modern solution. Compared to other technologies, FTTH also has the advantage of being future proof, allowing us to easily upgrade our customers to Gigabit Ethernet," Rerolle said.
By May 2017, Safaricom had laid fiber in proximity to 53,000 homes and laid more than 4,000 km (2,485 miles) of fiber, according to its 2017 financial report. It's using third-party network providers and home-fiber resellers to further spur growth, reported HapaKenya.
Only months later, Safaricom's FTTH network has passed more than 93,000 homes, Rerolle said. In addition, the operator invested in a metro fiber network to augment its FTTH network, he said.
"The choice of this technology has been validated by the high service stability enjoyed by Safaricom Home customers, and by the fact that our customers say they enjoy using the service," said Rerolle.
Safaricom evaluated a number of vendors through a selective bidding process, ultimately choosing ten, including Huawei, to deploy the latest portion of its FTTH network, he said. As a result, residential customers will see speeds of 40 Mbit/s, said Rerolle.
As FTTH becomes increasingly available from Safaricom, it has pushed competitors to attain parity in speed, latency and reliability, some local reports said. One headline claimed Safaricom was aiming for a competitor's jugular, for example, when it brought its FTTH service to Nairobi.
It also builds a bigger platform for a growing array of Safaricom digital services such as pay-TV via its set-top box and streaming services through partners like Showmax.
"There has been growing demand for Internet connectivity at the home, which is being driven by the emergence of a more digitally enhanced lifestyle," Rerolle said. "We expect this demand to grow in the foreseeable future as we reach more homes and the service becomes available in more towns and estates around the country."
— Alison Diana, Editor, UBB2020. Follow us on Twitter @UBB2020 or @alisoncdiana.