DRC: Work now under way to link the country by fibre to its neighbours and the world
One of Africa’s largest countries, DRC, has taken the first towards creating a fibre link to its neighbours and the outside world. A little-noticed announcement was made at the end of last month by the Vice-First Minister for Reconstruction that gave the green light to start construction work on a fibre optic link from the capital Kinshasa to the coastal town of Muanda. Russell Southwood looks at the potential impact on the country’s connectivity.
The Vice First-Minister for Reconstruction Emile Bongeli announced at the end of February the first phase of construction of a national fibre backbone with the building of a Muanda-Kinshasa link in partnership with China.
The project is scheduled to last nine months and will cost US$31 million. The link will be 651 kilometres long and have a capacity of 10 Gbps. The project is being managed by the incumbent l'Office congolais des postes et télécommunications (OCPT).
Its Administrateur Directeur Technique (ADT) Placide Mbatika said that it would allow the cost of telephone calls to be reduced “sensibly” and that all operators would be able to connect the proposed national network. He said that telecommunications was among five important public works for the country. To illustrate his point, he cited the case of the country’s universities which could be connected properly to the Internet and the use of surveillance cameras on roads and other locations.
Because of its impact on other sectors of national life, telecommunications was one of the key indicators for economic growth because it helped generate wealth, created employed and was key factor for the integration of different groups within the country. It was also the initiator of a range of new “value-added” services:”OCPT will make this backbone the national reference network.”
The second phase would see the deployment of fibre from Kinshasa to Kenge in Bandundu province west of Kinshasa. From this province, the cable would go to the mining province of Katanga via Kasaï. No details were announced for the routing but the path to Kolwezi passes not too far away from Mbuji-Mayi.
After Kolwezi, it would go north to Bukavu (Sud-Kivu province), Goma (Nord-Kivu province), Kisangani (Orientale province), Mbandaka (Equateur province) before having come in a huge circle back to Kenge. It was noted that the cable through Katanga province will pass through Kasumbalesa which will allow a connection to be made southwards down into Zambia.
This is a huge civil works project in a country that has few roads beyond the capital Kinshasa. The link to Muanda will be the easiest to build and with Chinese contractors is likely to be completed close to the proposed schedule. However, the scale of the proposed nation-wide ring is enormous and is likely to take 3-5 years to complete. Meanwhile it is likely that other fibre operators may connect up to Lubumbashi from Zambia.
But when the link to Mudanda is made, it is a under 100 kilometres to Pointe Noire, the Capital of Congo-Brazzaville, Angola’s Cabinda enclave and Angola itself. It will then become relatively easy to connect into the festoon cable Angola is currently laying and to on-connect to Pointe Noire.