March 03, 2021

What counts as fibre and why you should care

By Matthew Campbell, Head of Small Business and FTTH at SEACOM

In the era of rapidly changing technology, digital transformation enabled by internet connectivity has been a lifeline for many businesses and entrepreneurs. It has helped them to preserve their careers and livelihoods through a global pandemic and time of ever-increasing competition. In 2019, South Africa surpassed 1.6-million fibre internet subscriptions, making us a leader in fibre uptake in Africa.

However, with so many connectivity options available, it can be hard to tell what’s worth your money and what’s not. More recently, internet service providers (ISPs) have launched products with names “AirFibre”, “LTE fibre” or “wireless fibre” as alternatives to traditional fibre optic cables.

While it’s impressive to see South African and international ISPs being inventive with their internet offerings, this trend can actually confuse the customer. Labelling products as “fibre” when they really aren’t is overwhelming consumers and preventing them from making the best choices in the process. If we look at fibre optic connections versus wireless or satellite communications, we can see several differences.

Differences between fibre and wireless connectivity

ISPs and telecommunications companies are offering wireless internet connectivity that don't require trenching or laying underground cables. That’s not to say that wireless solutions don’t require infrastructure - they still need cell phone towers to provide connectivity to consumers.

The issue is that some local ISPs are labelling their wireless connectivity as “fibre”, when they certainly are not. Using fibre-related terminology to label these services is incorrect and misleading. Consumers will believe that they are paying for fibre-like services, when in fact they receive slower connections, less bandwidth and lower reliability than a real fibre optic connection.

Only connections that involve physical fibre optic infrastructure can be called “fibre”. Any connection that is wireless is not fibre. The service works by transferring data in the form of light pulses down a fibre optic strand of glass. These cables transfer information at the speed of light over massive distances without scattering or dispersing, which gives fibre its incredible speed and bandwidth.

The case for satellite connectivity

Satellite communication has its place in the modern era. It’s more beneficial in rural areas where the rollout of fibre and other broadband infrastructure is still taking place. Satellites could serve as the major means of connectivity in remote areas of Africa, particularly in central countries that are further away from subsea cables.

Elon Musk’s satellite broadband service, Starlink, has opened its pre-order list to South Africa and other African countries. This type of connectivity is ideal for poorly connected areas or those in mountainous terrain where it’s too costly to install fibre and wireless connections.

Satellites can connect many devices, however, the lower bandwidth capability and reliance on external factors, such as the weather and a clear view of the sky, can inhibit satellite connections. This results in unstable internet speeds and more downtime. Tall trees, buildings, heavy rain and clouds are potential obstacles that can interrupt the satellite connection.

The case for fibre

Fibre is considered to be the most affordable, reliable and fast connectivity option. It is ideally suited to urban areas and cities with good foundations where it’s easier to lay the cables. However, this is changing as more fibre network operators (FNOs) are rolling out in remote areas. Fibre is becoming more accessible to South Africans.

Although fibre requires physical manpower to install and maintain, the cables promise more bandwidth, fewer electromagnetic interferences and fewer connection interruptions. This makes fibre optics more reliable and stable than satellites and less prone to delays and speed fluctuations. In essence, the consumer gets what they pay for.

For satellites and other wireless services to work, receivers need to have a physical line of sight with towers and satellites. As more businesses begin to embrace digital transformation by moving to the cloud, their bandwidth needs and reliance on the internet is only going to increase. Fibre offers the ideal mix of scalability, bandwidth and speed for these purposes.

The fibre sector is constantly making progress to provide better, faster and more reliable ways to deploy infrastructure across South Africa. New methodologies are being tested and ISPs are increasingly working alongside FNOs and the government to support the local digital economy.

If internet services are named in such a way that they create expectations that can’t be met, then consumers will suffer. Making false claims about connectivity is a trend that needs to stop. SEACOM is focussed on building high-quality, sustainable networks that can endure the increasing demand for fibre internet. We offer best-in-class fibre to medium businesses and large enterprises. For more information or to get a quote for our fibre internet solutions, email us at or leave us a message.

SEACOM owns Africa’s most extensive network of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, including subsea cables and secure internet connections. We offer a diverse range of flexible, scalable and high-quality solutions for businesses that meet world-class standards for connectivity.

SEACOM is privately owned and operated, making it agile and adaptable to the needs of the customer. This makes us the preferred ICT and internet connectivity partner for African businesses and peripheral service providers. We can guarantee high-speed, low-latency and secure internet connections to corporates and small enterprises.

For‌ ‌more‌ ‌information‌ ‌on‌ our internet and voice solutions, ‌follow‌ ‌us‌ ‌on‌ ‌‌LinkedIn‌,‌ ‌‌Facebook‌ ‌or‌ ‌‌Twitter.‌ ‌Keep‌ ‌an‌ ‌eye‌ ‌on‌ ‌our‌ ‌‌news‌ ‌section‌‌ ‌for‌ ‌insightful‌ ‌articles‌ and relevant news stories on African ICT, internet connectivity and our leading cloud and security solutions.

Need internet for your home? Our subsidiary, WonderNet, brings fast and cost-effective broadband internet to all Africans with a fibre-to-the-home offering.