Safaricom Home Fibre has been around for more than three years, and while it mostly works, the product has received its fair share of criticism. The reported cases of downtime, delayed installations, activations, or maintenance work have been increasing in the last couple of months. If you have used the services for some time, you should be aware that these issues started gaining momentum sometime in November or October 2018, and the carrier’s response to hundreds of complaints is a textbook PR narrative that we have come to expect, and do not address what happened to good speeds, or why it is so hard for the telco to admit fault.
Before we can examine what happened with speeds, it is worth noting that fibre-optic offers the best internet connections in the world. The same can be said for Home Fibre, which delivers impressive upload and download speeds (other ISPs are notoriously selfish with upload bandwidth). However, Fibre is only available in a handful of urban centres in Kenya, and in other rural towns, people are still relying on coax or telephone lines to access the net for their businesses.
Furthermore, Safaricom’s Home Fibre, among other competitors that offer fiber-optic-based connections are not available in many places because the installation process is expensive. Very few organizations have the capacity to roll out the product, but Safaricom, with its resources and astronomical profits, has the capacity to do so.
While I’m not certain about this, Safaricom Home Fibre had a handful of users at the beginning. Those customers were probably served with a dedicated link or dedicated internet access (DIA). Of course, it is costly to serve customers with DIA, but the mobile operator needed to onboard many people onto the product. I can report that those were good times: a 5 Mbps or 10 Mbps connection was more than enough, and could hit outstanding speeds at certain times. Right now, you cannot download and stream at the same time with those bandwidths: even a 20 Mbps is subject to the same limitations, and this rubs a lot of people wrongly considering the plans are quite pricey.
I understand why Safaricom Home Fibre is using a shared connection to its consumers. With DIA, it would mean Safaricom has or had to set aside a healthy budget to install dedicated fibre from the source to their location. In some cases, the connection is done among several organization locations. The cost of these exercises is expensive, and has, for a long time, made fibre optic services a luxury commodity for SMEs and many households.
@Safaricom_Care @SafaricomPLC Aki ninawasihi mtuekee home fibre hapa royal finesse kitengela the last fiber cable is 3kms away they're 30 units please ni ombi tu msikatae cc @bobcollymore 30 home faiba clients requesting! coz using this shared point to point connection HAPANA!
— Pain Nagato (@afrikandionysus) October 1, 2018
Hi Aces, apologies for the late response. Our Fibre to the home connection is shared. See more cont…
— Safaricom PLC (@SafaricomPLC) September 13, 2017
This is where the idea of a shared connection or shared fibre arose: Safaricom is obviously looking forward to lowering the cost of installation and access for all its target customers.
To begin with, Safaricom acknowledges Home Fibre is based on a shared connection as highlighted in the linked tweets above. The question comes up when new customers want to hop in, and want to know what they are getting into.
Shared fibre is based on Passive Optical Network (PON), which uses one strand of optical fibre to serve the internet needs of multiple customers in a big area. In DIA, one strand of the cable serves a single customer. In PON, the same strand can serve many clients and can go up to 32 in some cases.
The effectiveness of a shared connection is preceded by separating data and channel it to a predetermined station. According to experts, PON uses splitters that are unpowered to separate and gather optical signals. This is how data is moved from a single wire or strand to several endpoints. Less money and infrastructure are therefore needed when splitting fibre connections at households than dedicated connections.
Why it has been slow
In principle, a shared bandwidth, which is the basis of Home Fibre, implies that your 5 Mbps, 10 or 40 Mbps is split among all consumers and their devices. That is why download speeds hit a certain limit, or you can stream content up to a particular resolution (we did a piece regarding the plans, and what they are capable of).
Put differently, you have been experiencing good speeds because traffic on your shared connection is light.
If your flat is fully occupied, and your flat-mates are house zombies who hate the outside world and its inequalities – and are heavy internet users who stare at their devices all day and night, then your experience is going to deteriorate.
And what are you going to do? Call customer care, whose agents have a template of dealing with your frustrations.
The Home Fibre agent will acknowledge the call with pleasantries.
You will communicate your complaint.
He or she will ask you to perform a speed test.
Sometimes, he/she will ask if your router has a red blinking light indicating the loss of a signal. You will say, No.
The speed test will be fine, and you will ask why simple app updates on your phone are bringing speeds to a crawl.
And with no shame, the agent will suggest you upgrade your plan; and you will want to ask if he or she is going to split the bill, but Sunday School made an impact on you so you have remarkable manners, and will let the outrageous suggestion slide.
Afterward, you will suddenly realize calling customer care is mostly useless and terminate the call. Immediately, you will be notified via text to rate the call. The audacity!
The mode of a shared connection is not going to change, and speeds are going to fluctuate from time to time. Shared fibre exists for cost savings, and Home Fibre enforced the system as a business decision, and your hue and cry on social media does nothing to the fundamentals of the product. Therefore, you must be aware of this bitter fact and manage your expectations accordingly because slow speeds and occasional downtimes are going to need your rationality, else you compromise your happiness. Capisce?
On the bright side of things, shared fibre implies that the product can be availed to rural communities without Safaricom Home team fearing to spend a lot of money in installations. We are looking forward to that day when this will be a reality.