Undersea cable to usher in new bandwidth era

Light is all its going to take to connect South Africans and the rest of Africa to Europe and Asia via the Middle East by 2010.

International structured cabling contractor Seacom is building and will own and operate a high-capacity undersea cable that will stretch over approximately 17 000km, providing cheap bandwidth at high volumes. The undersea portion will be more than 13 500km long.

The construction of the privately funded undersea fibre-optic cable, which is slightly bigger in diameter than a R5 coin when it is in shallow water, already began in November last year.

The cable, which has 76,25% African ownership, is expected to connect Southern and East Africa with Europe and India by linking Mtunzini in the north of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa to Mumbai in India and Marseille in France via Mozambique, Madagascar, Kenya and Tanzania.

A total of 50% of that African ownership comes from South Africa, where Venfin owns 25%, Convergence Partners 12,5% and Shanduka 12,5%.

According to Seacom, its offerings will complement communication carriers of Southern and East Africa through the sale of wholesale international capacity to global networks eastward through India and westward through Europe.

It said that the cable will provide African retail carriers with equal and open access to inexpensive bandwidth, removing the international infrastructure bottleneck and supporting regional economic growth.

It also said that the fibre-optic undersea cable is cheaper than other fibre or satellite options.

Brian Herlihy, Seacom president, explained that flooding bandwidth into the market would drop prices and be a catalyst for education and research. Seacom has told South African universities that they will only pay 2,5% of what they currently are paying.

“This will support the social and economic development of the African continent, as well as encourage research and development in the ICT sector,” he said.

He said last year that the “SEA Cable System is [making] massive new bandwidth available, enabling prices to come down dramatically and opening up the possibility of developing new fields of economic activity in all the countries served”.

“Seacom will pump bandwidth as cheap as R267 a month,” he explained, speaking at a conference in Johannesburg North on Monday.

Seacom has also procured relationships so that the bandwidth is not limited to only a few locations. It could use BT in London to link the bandwidth from South Africa to the United States, creating a global network through peer-to-peer procuring.

It has also taken into account the creation of a back-up structure in the event of something going wrong. An incident in Dubai recently left undersea cables damaged, which had to be repaired to restore normal internet access. One report said that a ship’s anchor had severed one cable between the Emirates and Oman, but there was no word over what caused the other cuts.

“We have the structure to jump from one cable to another,” Herlihy said, adding that this lowers the risks relating to the use of submarine cables.

The SEA Cable System should be ready to serve Southern and East African markets from 2009, well in time to meet the bandwidth needs of the Confederations Cup and the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa, as well as the growing requirements of the economies in the countries it serves.

In November, Seacom had already invested more than $10-million in a marine survey of the cable, which would help it maintain its ready-for-service date of June 2009. — I-Net Bridge

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