Cheaper, Faster Internet Gets Closer as Seacom Cable Laid


The promise of cheaper and faster international bandwidth for Africa moved significantly closer last week, with the official groundbreaking of a landing station where the undersea Seacom cable will dock in Mozambique.

The $600m cable originally promised to slash SA's bandwidth costs by 80%, but the mere threat of its arrival has prompted incumbent operators such as Telkom to drop data prices by up to 80%. Even so, Seacom would charge at least 50% less for its bandwidth when it goes live on June 27 next year, said its president, Brian Herlihy.

The landing station in Maputo is unimpressive, based on concrete slabs a few hundred metres inland and raised a metre above the potential flood line. The shrinking size of technology means the amount of equipment needed for the station has shrunk considerably over the years, Herlihy said.

Work on SA's landing station in Mtunzini will begin in December. Those facilities will be run by Neotel, which is investing R20m in the project. But its bandwidth will be sold to any other operator at wholesale prices, offering cheaper international connectivity for all cellular networks and internet service providers.

The complexity of the project is magnified by delivering the cable to 11 different countries, each with their own regulatory foibles.

In Maputo, a flower shop and a main road lie between the landing station and the beach, but the cable will be laid underground at a depth of 1.5m. Cable will then be rolled out 2km offshore, with the work conducted by hand to reduce the environmental impact. Then a cable-laying ship will take over, splicing the cables from several coastal points into the main 14000km-long cable sunk onto the ocean bed, linking Africa to Europe and India.

Universities in SA will benefit, with Seacom pledging 50 times more bandwidth for 2% of the fee they pay now.

Seacom estimates there are 1-million broadband users in SA, and if they all accessed the internet simultaneously that would require one terabit of international bandwidth. Yet SA has only about 10 gigabits, so users may never get the access speeds they pay for."A lack of international capacity has been choking the data market in Africa for years," Herlihy said. "Data markets are springing up in every country, but ... the exploitation of the Internet really hasn't started in Africa."

Business Day