Telecoms upgrade for Africa

By Nawa Mutumweno – The East  African Submarine Cable System (EASSy), a 10 000 km fibre-optic submarine cable system that has been recently laid along the east coast of Africa that will have a dramatic impact on the communications  capabilities of existing businesses, as well as opening up access  to global markets and creating a myriad of new business opportunities.

Businesses will take advantage of the improved internet connectivity and the region’s low-cost, skilled workforce while for consumers, it will broaden access to information availability throughout  the region and globally, increasing knowledge and enriching lives.

It runs from Sudan to South Africa, landing in a total of nine countries and interconnecting with other international cable systems, uniquely providing direct connectivity to Europe, the Americas, as well as links to the Middle East and Asia.

EASSy is the largest submarine cable in Africa and is capable of transmitting 1.4  terabits  of data  per second (quick enough to download 200 DVD movies in one second)

The international telecoms carrier WIOCC  is by far the largest single investor in EASSy, owning 29% of the system. EASSy is owned by 14 African telecom companies and is partially funded by five global Development Finance Institutions (DFIs). Through WIOCC, telecommunications service providers are able to buy reliable, low-cost, high-speed connections between 18 countries across east, central and southern Africa and the rest of the world. WIOCC’s shareholders also own extensive national fibre-optic networks, which are being interconnected to link up more towns and cities across the region.

Construction works are on schedule with cable laying having began in January this year using two ships. One heading south from Sudan and the other sailing north from South Africa. They met off the East African coast between Mombasa and Dar es Salaam in mid April 2010 and joined the two ends of the submarine cable; this is known as the ‘’final splice’’.

The system has so far landed in Port Sudan (Sudan), Djibouti (Djibouti), Mombasa (Kenya), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Moroni (Comoros), Toliary  (Madagascar), Maputo (Mozambique) and Mtunzini (South Africa).

“End-to-end system tests have begun and we expect to go live in July 2010. Only then will African businesses and consumers experience the benfits of a truly competitive market for international connectivity,’’ Chris Wood, CEO of WIOCC pointed out.

One key change that will be realised is the availability of a direct route to Europe, to access the nternet. Currently, all traffic from East and Southern Africa is routed via the Middle East or India. This causes transmission  delays or high ’’latency.’’

It is estimated that a staggering 95% of all traffic is internet-related, and with new bandwidth-intensive applications rapidly being rolled out, this percentage is likely to be maintained.

Internet service providers (ISPs) and other operators are increasingly seeking low-latency connectivity to the key exchanges in Europe and the United States. WIOCC and its shareholders, through the investment in EASSy, will be the first to deliver direct, affordable, reliable internet connectivity to the region.

WIOCC services will be available in 18 countries across Africa via its shareholders or partner networks. These countries are Botswana, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Comoros, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Namibia, Mozambique, Sudan, Rwanda, South Africa, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Through EASSy, it is hoped that the African telecoms landscape will be availed to a larger populace, thus contributing to continental development.