Herotel has a competitive lead with South Africa’s first commercial SR network

8 Jun, 2021
Anthony Laing, GM of Networking at NEC XON

Herotel has implemented a cutting-edge segment routing (SR) network from NEC XON which makes the network extremely efficient, easier to automate, and results in the ability to provide better quality services for less to its customers.

The network, based on Juniper Networks MX 204 and MX10008 Universal Routing Platform technology implemented by NEC XON, positions Herotel as one of the strongest direct access operators in South Africa.

“The benefits of the technology ultimately mean Herotel can provide a better quality service for less,” says Anthony Laing, GM of Networking at NEC XON. “The automation and efficiencies of the technology mean they need fewer people to provision their services, which reduces overheads. That’s a huge competitive advantage for a direct access operator forging a dominant position as a national fibre player.”

The direct access operator has recently announced the most competitive price structures for equivalent speed broadband services in South Africa.

Anthony Laing, GM of Networking at NEC XON

Among other benefits of the implementation with NEC XON, Herotel has consolidated 19 separate operating entities and networks into one.

“With the combination of the skilfully architected network and implementation services from NEC XON, together with the Juniper Networks technology, we now have the platform to achieve our very ambitious growth goals,” says Eldred Ekermans, CTO of Herotel. “The new network enables us to remain true to our core design philosophy, providing excellent customer experiences, driving costs down while still meeting all the quality and availability requirements without being over-engineered or short sighted.”

“Herotel demonstrated why they’re a top network service provider in South Africa,” says Laing. “They quickly understood the business benefits of the technology and how we could use it to develop a solution that matches their vision and core operating principles. They’ve skilfully translated that to improve operating efficiencies and better, more cost-effective services for their customers. That’s given them at least an 18- to 24-month lead on the market, particularly as they are now determined to build out their capability.”

In 2018, Herotel identified the need for a next-generation network to meet the burgeoning demands of South African Internet users. The business was growing rapidly and had, by February 2020, acquired 40 independent companies, serving homes and business in 400 towns across South Africa.

Organic growth now drives the construction of at least 16 additional fibre networks in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and the direct access service provider recently announced it will bring fibre to 18 more towns in the Western Cape.

“When we planned the upgrade, we wanted a single solution that provides automation efficiencies, interoperability and integration, and improves availability,” says Ekermans. “NEC XON helped us create a network that uses Juniper’s innovative technology that makes much more effective use of the network. Our network is now more flexible and adaptable, which means it easily handles the unexpected.”

That was proven when South Africa was locked down in March 2020. James Devine, National Head of Networks at Herotel, says traffic immediately spiked by 30%.

“There was a huge increase in demand for streaming services, general connectivity, as well as for collaboration applications such as Zoom and Teams,” he says. “Our core and transmission networks handled the extra load easily, and our access networks only required minor tweaks.”

“The network is decentralised, adaptable and its flexible nature scales well. It has enabled us to create a solid foundation for automation, so it is efficient, more cost-effective, and simpler to maintain,” says Devine. He adds that finding the right partner was crucial to the success of the project.

“This technology is so new that we needed a strong partner. NEC XON has the skills and qualified staff to deploy, implement and now maintain it with us,” he says.

Herotel is migrating customers in phases. It intends having migrated all fibre customers by the end of 2021, with customers on its fixed wireless networks following suit in 2022.

“We simultaneously have a strong push to enhance network visibility and management with a core focus on automation, particularly for provisioning and intelligence-based routing,” says Devine. “Growing those capabilities and efficiencies will offload administration overheads even further, allow us to onboard customers faster, and enhance service, making us more efficient and more cost-effective.”

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