Morocco invests in fibre optic line to Western Sahara and Mauritania


Maroc Telecom has secured a US$ 1.3 billion investment programme, mostly financed by the Moroccan government. The programme will see major improvement and modernisation of Morocco's fixed-line and mobile networks, but also a new fiber optic cable to France and through Western Sahara into Mauritania. This will Mauritania a competitive alternative to using SAT3 through Dakar.

Abdeslam Ahizoune, chairman of Maroc Telecom, which is majority-owned by the French giant Vivendi, yesterday signed off an investment deal with the Moroccan government. The deal secures investments of dirham 10.5 billion (US$ 1.3 billion) into Morocco's telecom infrastructure.

According to a statement issued by Maroc Telecom, "the investment programme will be devoted to the extension and modernisation of telecommunications infrastructure and will focus on three key thrusts."

The first objective would be to "support capacity enhancement with the aim of ensuring optimal traffic management and service quality through the use of Next Generation Network (NGN) while also enabling the deployment, under optimal conditions, of convergence services in the Fixed-line and Mobile services segments in order to roll out unlimited call plans, IPTV and broadband internet" in Morocco proper.

The second objective is more controversial and concerns Morocco's connections with the outside world. Maroc Telecom pledges to enhance its international transmission capacity via the Atlas Offshore submarine cable between Morocco and Europe. The cable, which was completed in 2007, connects the cities of Asilah in Morocco and Marseille in France, but with ever-increasing telecom traffic, Maroc Telecom sees a need to upgrade the cable already.

Another fiber optic cable connection is planned southwards, to provide good connectivity for the hitherto poorly connected Moroccan-occupied territory of Western Sahara. Maroc Telecom plans an extension of the fiber optic line now reaching the Sahrawi capital El Aaiun, to go further southwards, passing Boujdour, Dakhla and Aousserd, and finally reaching the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott.

Reaching Mauritania, the Moroccan-controlled cable will become a second alternative for West Africa's enhanced connectivity, adding to the West African Cable System (WACS), which is being constructed along Africa's Atlantic coast from Europe to South Africa. Neither Mauritania nor Senegal have signed up to this competing project yet, and in both countries, Vivendi has a strong position.

According to Maroc Telecom, the third objective of the giant investment scheme involves providing coverage across major rural areas and isolated mountain communities in Morocco as part of the Telecommunications Access Programme (PACTE). "An additional 7,300 rural areas will be served by the telecommunications network by 2011," the company announced.