While the arrival of the Seacom undersea cable is great news for international bandwidth starved South Africa, the launch on Thursday at Neotel’s Midrand data centre was more damp squib than monumental occasion.
While guests and the media watched a video from Tanzania, where Seacom CEO Brian Herlihy and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete officially launched East Africa’s first undersea cable, techies sat glued to their laptops testing upload and download speeds and trying to one-up each other with Twitter tweets.
Tech journalists, bloggers and Twitter users provided a running commentary on the proceedings and most chose to focus on the high-speed services that Seacom will deliver to South Africa, which is appropriate because that’s where the real story of Seacom lies, especially for South Africa.
For years, South Africa has been held to ransom by Telkom and its monopoly over Africa’s only undersea cable, Sat-3.
However, now there’s a new kid in town. Seacom has landed and hopefully the massive reduction in bandwidth costs (up to 40% have been promised) will come to fruition.
The fact that Telkom recently announced that consortium members who control the Sat-3 cable have decided to treble capacity next month, seems to suggest that Telkom is aware that competition has arrived on its doorstep.
However, questions must be asked about why the Sat-3 consortium has waited until Seacom’s launch to make a move. Could it be a mere coincidence? Or has the consortium been squeezing every last cent out of Africa?
This sense of aggravation was borne out in comments made by Shanduka Group chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa, a major investor in Seacom, who said the launch of Seacom signalled the ‘end of our frustration”.
Ramaphosa said that Seacom would serve as ‘a catalyst for the east and south of Africa to speed up its economic development”.
‘The benefits we will see from this will be enormous,” said Ramaphosa.
‘We, as the Shanduka group, are proud to be involved in this project.”
While South Africans can celebrate the arrival of cheaper and faster broadband, it was plainly evident how important the Seacom cable is to countries like Tanzania, who have until now not had access to an fibre optic cable.
‘I would like to thank and congratulate Seacom for making our dreams come true,” said Kikwete.
Kikwete also reinforced the fact that the landing of the cable in his country was also a momentous occasion for its neighbours, reaffirming that Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi would all be able to connect to Seacom through Tanzania as soon as possible.
‘We are working together with all these governments,” he said.
Now that the Seacom has landed, it’s up to Africa’s telecoms operators to come to the party and deliver high speed broadband at affordable prices. Only then will consumers feel that Seacom has delivered on its promise.