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West Africa Cable System fuels telecom competition

o Michael Malakata
21.04.2011 kl 22:17 | Computerworld Zambia

The landing of the West Africa Cable System (WACS) undersea cable this week is not only expected to bring much-needed capacity to the region, but more competition to the telecommunications market.


The landing of the West Africa Cable System (WACS) undersea cable this week is not only expected to bring much-needed capacity to the region, but more competition to the telecommunications market.

The cable, which landed Tuesday in South Africa, is an IP platform designed to allow direct routing among African countries through a single seamless network, enabling customers to reach several countries using the shortest path without Internet traffic being transferred through Europe.

Cable systems are expected to offer lower prices to telecom operators as they compete for customers. Some of the operators are also investors in the cables.

The U.N. wants at least 60 percent of the region's population to have access to affordable communication by 2015.

"Lack of bandwidth on the continent has arrested the development of Africa and has constrained Africa from achieving its full potential," said Karel Pienaar, MTN South Africa managing director.

The WACS submarine cable system is a high-capacity fiber submarine system that directly links Southern Africa and Europe, spanning the West African coast and terminating in London. It has 15 terminal stations that anchor along the west coast of Africa including Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

The WACS is one of several undersea cables to connect Africa to other continents, including Seacom, the EASSY project, TEAMS, SAT-3, Maine One as well as the recently launched Glo 1.

Glo 1 is a 9,800-kilometer-long cable that launched earlier this month in Ghana. Meanwhile, the Main One cable system in March deployed Cisco's IP Next- Generation Network (IP NGN) in an effort to provide secure and high-bandwidth network capacity for governments and global enterprise customers in West Africa. Main One switched on its 7,000-kilometer submarine fiber-optic cable system linking West Africa to Europe in July 2010.

Seacom is a big competitor that has strategically positioned itself for competition by launching a new IP platform project involving the designing, deployment and operation of nine land-based Internet exchange points, which would store popular Web content closer to where the Internet is accessed by users in various regions. This will enable a richer and faster browsing experience to end users, according to Seacom Products Strategy head Suveer Ramdani.

Over the past year, competition in the region's broadband market has intensified and has forced down wholesale prices. ISPs and mobile operators have in turn been able to significantly reduce prices.

MTN is the largest single shareholder in WACS, with a $90 million investment in the $650 million cable. WACS is funded by a consortium of operators including Portugal Telecom, Angola Cable, Telecom South Africa and Telecom Namibia.

Despite the price cuts, African governments are pushing for further reductions in connectivity prices. Governments in the region hope to use the new broadband capacity to transform their economies as land-based infrastructure is being laid to bring capacity in from the coast, an especially important project for landlocked countries including Zambia and Zimbabwe.

WACS is designed to enable seamless connectivity to Europe and will be the first cable to have landing stations in Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo and Togo.

"The capacity of the entire system is 5.12Tbps. The system is designed to support present and future Internet, e-commerce, video, data and voice services," said Casper Chihaka, managing executive of Telkom Wholesale Services.

Telkom was responsible for landing the cable in South Africa.

In addition to cable systems that have already been launched, there is more competition on the horizon. The 17,000-km Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable is expected to be launched by mid-2012. ACE would present the opportunity for the first international submarine cable to land in some West African countries including Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe, and Sierra Leone. 

These countries have relied on expensive satellite communications with limited bandwidth for Internet connectivity, keeping the cost of basic Internet access high, with transmission rates ranging from 16k bps to 1M bps, according to Sierra Leone Information Minister Ibrahim Kargbo.

The new cable system entrants coming to market will provide access to broadband connectivity for operators in the region -- either directly for coastal countries or indirectly through terrestrial links for landlocked countries -- and offer improved connectivity to telecommunications networks in Europe, the Americas and Asia.

(Additional reporting by Olusegun Ogundeji in Sierra Leone.)

Keywords: Telecommunication  
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