With the Cables Now in Uganda, What Next?
Two high-capacity submarine cables have landed on the Kenya and Dar es Saalam beaches, but it seems only half of the region's communication problem is fixed.
Industry players say the landing of the cables might not save anything just yet, unless leveraging of the cables to get connectivity to the user is taken care of.
Many are of the view that this can be achieved fast if telecommunication companies and Internet Service Providers (ISP's) come together to build their already existing infrastructure and therefore extend the cables from their landing points to other land locked East African countries.
It is against this backdrop that major telecommunication companies from Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Kenya have formed a committee known as The East African Backhaul System (EABs) committee.
The committee aims at connecting end users to affordable and fast internet as soon as it finishes laying the cables and connecting the five East African countries.
According to the EABs Chairman and UTL representative, Mr Donald Nyakairu, the fibre backhaul links that will connect Uganda to the cable landing stations at Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam are either in place or at advanced levels of construction.
MTN's EABs representative John Bagiire admitted that although construction is at advanced stages, business models for commercial access to this infrastructure and rates that lead to optimal utilisation of the submarine cable capacity to deliver good value to the end users is lacking.
"This is the reason why different approaches are being taken to address this issue with individual operators taking initiatives to access the submarine cable capacity now. However, it is unlikely to be optimal either from a cost or quality perspective," Mr Bagiire told Business Power recently.
"With the international holdup now out of the way and with several parties having capacity in the two new cable systems, Teams and Seacom, and with EASSy arriving next year, it is expected that a competitive market platform will be formed, allowing for connectivity at a reasonable price."
Capacity from Seacom is already available in Uganda while capacity from Teams is expected any time. However, the amount, option and cost of backhaul capacity will be such as to make this capacity more expensive in the initial six to 12 months than it should.
It is expected that the biggest content services open to consumers with the new broadband abundance will be the internet, the World Wide Web and other free content will be accessed for social, commercial and developmental needs like Face Book. Education, health and other sectors will greatly benefit.
Networking over the internet for business and social purposes will be enhanced and grow enormously.
"There will also be opportunity for accessing chargeable content provided by what some have called Internet Content Providers. Ugandans will have the opportunity to enter the content business more strongly - it is unlikely to be a one-way street. This local content will also be available to Ugandan users," Mr Bagiire says.
Terrestrial fibre backbones are already in place in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Using these links, it is possible now, to have a seamless backhaul link from Kigali to Mombasa. What is not yet in place is a workable commercial model that allows linking the adjacent national backbone networks into a single backhaul link that serves all the five East African Community countries.
"Such a link will need to provide redundant connection and be established at as low a cost as possible. Only a collaborative effort across the five East African countries can deliver on all these objectives. EABs, which will be jointly owned by operators in the five countries, will fill this gap very well," Mr Bagiire said.
Local telecommunication companies who are members of the EABs committee are hoping to use either the Telkom Kenya cable or the Kenya Data Network (KDN) cable or both.
In Uganda, both UTL and MTN will avail parts of their transmission networks, as will Rwandatel and MTN in Rwanda. In Burundi, the operators, under a project championed by the government of Burundi, are collaborating with the support of the World Bank to build a national backbone, and two fibres along; parts of this shall be contributed to form the Burundi EABs segment.