South Sudan plans link to fibre-optic Internet in 2013


South Sudan, one of the world's least developed countries, aims to lay a fibre-optic network this year to link the capital Juba with submarine cables in east Africa to cut the high cost of using the Internet, a senior official said on Tuesday.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, six years after a peace accord that ended decades of civil war that left the country's infrastructure in ruins. It has no landline phone lines and only 300 km (186 miles) of roads.

South Sudan is one of the most expensive countries in Africa for Internet use. The average retail price of Internet bandwidth via satellite is currently around $4,000 per megabit (MB), according to a source familiar with the industry.

The government wants to cut that cost by reducing reliance on satellite bandwidth, said Juma Stephen, undersecretary at the telecommunication and postal services ministry.

"We are targeting this year, within this year, that we will be connected to the submarine cable," Stephen told Reuters. "Construction of fibre-optic cables will more than halve Internet prices and make it twice as fast."

Stephen gave no details about the average cost of bandwidth but said all South Sudan's Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use satellite-based V-Sat, WiFi and WiMAX technology.

South Sudan, which has 15 ISPs, is now doing a feasibility study on whether to connect with marine cables in Djibouti in the Red Sea or Kenya's Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, he said.

Three undersea fibre-optic networks serve east Africa's Internet traffic: The East African Marine Systems (TEAMS), the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and SEACOM.

The country has four main mobile operators offering Internet: South Africa's MTN, Kuwait's Zain, Vivacell and Gemtel.

The country also hopes to launch its Internet domain ".SS" this year to help the government set up its own email system, Stephen said.

The government has also started to set up postal services with post offices open in South Sudan's five main cities. "At the moment parcels are coming in but we still can't send parcels," Stephen said.

South Sudan, which depends on Sudanese airlines to deliver mail via Khartoum, is also in talks with neighbours Kenya and Ethiopia to send mail abroad by air.

South Sudan lost most state revenue when it shut down its oil production in a row with Sudan over pipeline fees a year ago. Both agreed in September to resume exports via Sudan but have yet to agree on how to secure their disputed border first.