FIRMS DISCUSS THE OVERLAND EASTERN AFRICA BACKHAUL SYSTEM

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Chief executives of nine telecom companies involved in the setting up of an overland Eastern Africa Backhaul System (EABs) meet this week in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to decide on final steps of the projet's implementation.

The 4,000km EABs project is an overland loop that will link up cities in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), running through Mombasa, Nairobi, Malaba, Kampala, Mbarara, Katuna, Kigali, Bujumbura and Dar es Salaam port.

  It is seen as the most significant of all planned overland backhauls expected to link up to the multi-million EASSy project, with a sizeable amount of traffic flowing through the region.

Technical representatives from the companies who form the EABs Project Management Team, met in Kigali last week to review a report submitted by IFC, a financial and investment arm of the World Bank.

Donald Nyakairu, the project head and Uganda Telecom company secretary, told Business Week in an interview that they would recommend to the respective CEOs, 'ringing' rather than 'leasing' of cables for linkage to the main EASSy cable, options given in the report.

"We have agreed that instead of leasing, all partner telecom firms involved should offer two of the 24-bundle fibres found in a cable, dedicated to carrying traffic for EASSy," he said. Already, some sections of the project have been completed while others are expected to be complete by end of the year. Others however, particularly in Burundi and Western Tanzania are yet to be started. It is expected that progress on the EABs will help fuel the development of the EASSy project, which has had a series of setbacks in progress in recent months.

IFC, which is supportive of the interests of smaller EASSy parties, early this year undertook to conduct a technical feasibility study and legal framework of the project and later released a transaction structuring report for the project. EASSy is a project meant to establish a 9,900km undersea cable system along the Eastern Africa coastline.

  The firms involved in the EABs include TTCL of Tanzania, Kenya Data Networks, which is also developing another undersea cable linking to the north east Arab countries, MTN Uganda and Uganda Telecom.

Others are MTN Rwandacell, Terracom Rwandatel, Telekom Kenya, Onatel and Telecel, both from Burundi.

East African Business Week