Imagine downloading 5 000 movies per second over your Internet connection. Those are the ultimate speeds being promised by a new, multibillion-rand submarine cable system that is to be built to connect South Africa and East Africa to Asia and the Middle East (and on to Europe).
The Africa-1 system, which will have a design capacity of 40Tbit/s, is still in planning — with its exact route still to be determined — but its backers hope to have signed a construction and maintenance agreement with a supplier by June and to have the system ready for service by the third quarter of next year.
Africa-1 has five backers so far: Hong Hong’s PCCW Global, Saudi Telecom Company and Telecom Egypt, along with South Africa’s MTN Group and Telkom.
The parties have all signed a memorandum of understanding, with other potential investors expected to come on board in the coming months.
News of the new cable is somewhat surprising given that the east coast of Africa is already served by two systems built in the past seven years, namely Seacom and Eassy. However, Africa-1, which will use the latest fibre wavelength technology, will have a much higher capacity than both of those systems and should outlast them by years.
Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, said the consortium is likely to be planning the system with redundancy in mind. Earlier this year, two cable systems went offline at the same time severely affecting Internet services in South Africa. If Africa-1 had been in place, it would have helped prevent this outage, Goldstuck said.
The new cable’s route will provide an alternative to the high-capacity cables along Africa’s west coast and offer less network delay to Asia (important, especially for financial services), he added.
In a statement, the consortium members said they have access to landing facilities at all major cable system in the Middle East, which will allow for “efficient and effective connectivity between Africa-1 and the rest of the world”.
The decision to build Africa-1 comes after the construction of similar systems along Africa’s west coast, the most recent of which is the extension of the Africa Coast to Europe (Ace) cable from West Africa to Cape Town, backed with funding from MTN. Ace will provide competition to the recently completed West Africa Cable System, better known as Wacs.
Africa-1 will extend more than 12 000km along Africa’s east coast towards Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, with up to an additional 5 000 km for branch network infrastructure.
Africa particularly important
Mike van den Bergh, chief marketing officer and MD for PCCW at Hong Kong Telecom Global Development Services, said that Africa is a particularly important region for PCCW Global.
“As the trade links between Asia and Africa, and between the rest of the world and Africa, have continued to grow, we have responded by increasing both the capacity on our network and the services delivered across it,” Van den Bergh said.
“Africa-1 is a natural extension of our network strategy which will help to address the increasing capacity demands of the Asia-Africa trade corridor with better levels of reliability, connecting people and businesses in some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.”
He said it’s too early to provide details about the exact route of Africa-1, and where its landing stations will be situated.
John Unterhorst, group executive for global carrier services and group network projects at MTN, said Africa-1 should ensure long-term capacity supply beyond the design limitations of some of the operator’s existing cable investments.
“The footprint and configuration of the initiative will form part of the ongoing scoping of the project by all parties. However, at this stage of the initiative, the footprint includes a terrestrial route across Pakistan and a new route across Egypt, all benefitting some of our markets in the Middle East and North Africa region,” Unterhorst said.
Edward Lawrence, director of business development for independent wholesale Internet provider Workonline Communications, said that with Africa-1, it is “only a matter of time before South Africa and the rest of Africa are able to enjoy even higher quality bandwidth at globally competitive rates”.
- This article was first published in the Sunday Times