/ 28 May 2009

At last, bandwidth

The quiet tourist area of Mtunzini, 140km north of Durban on the North Coast, boasts scenic beaches, great bird watching, a nine-hole golf course, and the most internet bandwidth in South Africa.

The completion of the infrastructure for the Seacom (South-east Asian telecommunications) cable at Mtunzini on Thursday finally takes South Africa off of the internet cow paths and on to the ‘digital superhighway”, to use a cool eighties reference.

Before Seacom, most internet traffic travelled out of South Africa on the primarily Telkom-owned Sat3 cable, which was artificially limited by the telecommunications monopoly to 40 gigabits per second (Gbps).

Seacom boasts 1,28 terabits per second (Tbps) — 32 times that of Sat3. The monopoly has kept South African telecommunications prices the highest in the world. The first in South Africa to benefit from Seacom — the country’s universities — will pay one-hundredth of the current cost on Telkom’s cable.

‘It’s enormously exciting, and has huge historical significance for all of Africa as it breaks the Telkom stranglehold on bandwidth,” said Arthur Goldstuck, managing director World Wide Worx.

‘The moment it goes live will be the moment it breaks that stranglehold.”

Goldstuck said the sudden buffet of international connectivity the Seacom cable gives South Africa ‘gives us the indication of the extent that bandwidth was being held back by Telkom”.

It was this stranglehold that will create a massive influx of bandwidth on the African continent over the next three years, believes Goldstuck.

‘In the next three years there’ll be a series of new cables connecting Africa. What’s caused the big flood is Telkom’s micromanagement of the Sat3 cable. By not releasing capacity at better prices, Telkom gave every other telco in Africa an incentive to pursue undersea cables.”

Goldstuck says that in the next three years, a total of seven new cables will be connected to Africa.

‘By 2012 we should have a total of 10,5Tbps connected,” he said.

Now that the infrastructure is complete, Seacom and its local partners will commence testing of the system to go live in a little over a month.

‘We can expect around a 20% to 25% drop in bandwidth prices this year, and a similar drop next year,” says Goldstuck. ‘Over the next three years there will be a cumulative 75% drop in cost of additional data. However, access costs won’t come down dramatically.”