The sudden departure of Broadband Infraco CEO Dave Smith on Friday last has left the South African stated-owned network infrastructure company’s future in doubt. Smith’s resignation comes just three months after the company launched its first commercial services.
With the firm already staggering under the weight of allegations of poor governance and dodgy procurement practices (which the company conceded had some substance and were under investigation), local industry players are now questioning the operation’s ability to come good on its mandate to deliver efficiently high-capacity, long-distance bandwidth to the country’s fixed and mobile operators.
Formed five years ago, when the SA government combined state electricity provider Eskom and railway operator Transnet’s ICT infrastructure, Broadband Infraco was tasked with providing a fibre-optic backbone aimed squarely at reducing costs and expanding the reach of the country’s communications networks. More than 12,000 km of fibre-optic cable was laid and the company is an anchor investor in the West African Cable System (WACS), due online this year and promising to link the south and west coast of the continent with Europe via 5.12 terabits of international bandwidth capacity.
With speculation regarding the organisation rife, there’s no mistaking the opportunity any potential privatisation of the entity would represent to a telco that was better positioned to take advantage of the infrastructure on offer.
In the face of mounting losses, Infraco launched last November – just in time for the biggest price slump in South African broadband history. In its first months the firm has had little impact, particularly as its mandate to enable low-cost broadband services has been stunted by its inability to move quickly enough to keep pace with the market. Nokia Siemens Networks oversees the 24x7x365 operations of the network.