Growing demand for bandwidth hungry applications and services in Africa has forced the SAT-3/WASC/SAFE Consortium to upgrade its 28,000km cable network linking the continent with Europe and Asia. Four years since its launch, Consortium Chairman Johan Meyer said that it now has a strong foothold in the global connectivity market and was looking to increase its ability to meet surging demand. The group has extended an agreement with Alcatel to upgrade the system and deliver what he termed a "quantum leap in available capacity" over the next two years.

Originally built at a cost of USD600 million, SAT-3/WASC/SAFE is comprised of two main network segments connecting 15 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. The SAT-3/WASC link between Europe to South Africa was initially built with a total capacity of 120 Gigabits while the SAFE network, linking South Africa to Malaysia via India, runs 130 Gigabits. The network provides vital links to several West African countries as well as providing redundancy for the Sea-Me-We 3 cable.

According to Meyer, "this proposed upgrade is testimony to the fact that SAT-3/WASC is indeed a success story which has facilitated economic and communications growth in the region and will continue to do so for many years in the future as made possible by the upgrade. Alcatel's advanced optical networking technology will help address the escalating demand for faster and more cost-effective communications in the African continent."

Global carriers and network suppliers are increasingly looking at Africa as a major emerging market. The uptake of telephony and the internet is already having an impact and efforts to bridge the global digital dive are expect to put further pressure on supplies. In addition to the SAT-3/WASC/SAFE upgrade, Alcatel is also working on the Sea-Me-We 4 project linking Asia and Europe via the Middle East and North Africa and FLAG Telecom's new Falcon link.

Alcatel submarine networks president Jean Godeluck said, "four years after delivering the initial service to the consortium, this upgrade confirms that SAT-3/WASC/SAFE is an integral part of the global network that Alcatel is proud of having contributed to build. The project will give easier and more efficient access to the internet, while fuelling the adoption of innovative broadband applications."