Backhauling for last mile solutions in South Africa

09 March 2023

TCS (The Computer Shop) began operations in South Africa more than 20 years ago with a mission to offer the widest range of IT services and support in the country.

TCS Wi-Fi was launched six years ago to meet the needs of those struggling with slow and unreliable internet connectivity and has since then become one of the leading wireless ISPs in South Africa. The unique service offering and attention to customer service has garnered the company a client base of more than 8,000 homes and business links from Caledon to Port Elizabeth, with shops in Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Sedgefield, George, Mossel Bay, St Francis Bay and, most recently, Greyton.

These customers range from the individual homeowner to multiple dwelling unit buildings with advanced surveillance, internet, and VoIP systems. TCS Wi-Fi has also forged partnerships with some of the country’s top telecommunication companies.

TCS has its own fibre backbone network and has been deploying wireless networking to create cost-effective backhaul links from customer premises to the backbone. As in other areas of wireless networking or with broadband services in general, the bandwidth requirements for homes and businesses are exploding and previously installed solutions were becoming exhausted or performing poorly under the strain of the increased data traffic, which is as much as 4x some service areas, compared to only six years ago.

State-of-the-art technology
The state-of-the-art these days for such backhaul applications is the deployment of 10Gb/s links – and TCS Wi-Fi turned to Siklu for advice on constructing such a link in the Plettenberg Bay service area. The link required was relatively short – approximately 300m – and a fibre connection was considered. However, even with that modest distance, TCS and Siklu determined that the wireless option would still be considerably less expensive and faster to install.

“When running fibre between two points, every metre is a potential failure point for physical damage,” said Wesley McQuillan, CEO, TCS Wi-Fi. “When going with connections based on high-quality wireless from Siklu, there are only two points of potential failure on the radio side. Further, they are 100% controlled by me, the owner of the equipment, and therefore I control the timeframe for replacement and make sure our uptimes are kept in line with customer expectations.”

Another factor that led to the selection of a wireless link is the growing use of the 70 and 80GHz bands in the country. Recognizing the abundant bandwidth available in those bands, which could be used to address several digital divide issues in the country, South Africa’s regulator ICASA has made it much easier to operate in those bands. For instance, ICASA has enacted a ‘lightly-licensed’ scheme to use these bands - giving a user up to 30 days in which to register - and has taken other measures to facilitate access to them. It is also much less expensive than other licensed bands at less than R1200 per year for a 10Gb/s link.

As a result, TCS and Siklu concluded that a link incorporating the Siklu EtherHaul™ EH-8010 would provide a highly reliable (consistently in the ‘five 9s’ range) 10Gb/s solution. Siklu’s reputation in millimetre-wave engineering and connectivity and its flexible pricing options also positively influenced the decision. After swapping out units to resolve a minor issue with using the SFP port, the installation proceeded as expected and was completed in less than one week. The small form factor antenna and Siklu’s alignment tools also help to speed the deployment process.

“For many years I have pointed out to my network engineers that we do not need to run fibre for anything 5km or less,” said McQuillan. “The performance of the Siklu radios in this project proves that assertion, by installing them between our main breakout and main high sites. The engineers all ended up getting back to me and agreeing with me that anything under 5km no longer requires fibre to be pulled into that area.”

TCS reports that they saved a substantial amount of time and money, as compared to trenching and installing fibre for this route. Given this benefit and the excellent performance to date, TCS plans to expand their 10 Gigabit-speed, mmWave wireless footprint – using Siklu equipment – in the coming years.

Following up on the project, Stef Delport, chief operating officer, TCS Wi-Fi, told us that “the Siklu 8010FX wireless link has proven to be a highly reliable and high-performing solution for our use case as a wireless internet service provider looking to enhance our wireless network. Its high capacity throughput and quick installation process make it an excellent choice for WISPs of all sizes looking to add that next-gen tech on to their networks. We are currently looking at a few future proof Siklu projects to put the fibre market on the back foot.”