Written by Cedric Lumuti. Saturday, 28 Feb 2009. NAIROBI, KENYA - The long awaited SEACOM fibre-optic cable arrives at Mombasa today. The arrival of the cable at Mombasa signals the onset of a whole new era in the telecommunications industry, especially the data services in the East African region. The project cost is estimated at US$ 700m upon completion. Over-reliance on satellite based data solutions is blamed for the high cost of communication in the region. Local companies that will buy bandwidth from SEACOM have already made groundwork to ensure they start business as soon as the cable becomes operational. These companies will resell the extended bandwidth to users both corporate and individual.
SEACOM senior vice president Jean Pierre de Leu confirmed to journalists in Naivasha that the cable that will provide broadband solutions, will be fully operational by July. It is expected that telecommunications costs could go down by 60 percent as the cost of bandwidth will crush significantly. High speed data solutions, especially internet are expected with the increased bandwidth. This will be the first undersea fibre-optic cable to land on Kenyan soil even as many players promise to come up with such cables. SEACOM is a fully funded private sector project with most of the ownership in the hands of African entrepreneurs.About 76 percent of the shareholding in the cable is African while the remaining 24 percent is owned by international stakeholders. Of the African owners, Industrial Promotion Services has 26 percent; Venfin Limited controls 25 percent while Convergence Partners and Shanduka hold a 12.5 percent stake each.
The debt financing for the project is by Nedbank Capital and Investec Bank.
An increased demand for bandwidth catalyzed by the increased use of 3G mobile phone technology and WiMax has seen shortage in supply of internet and the cable is expected to make a major reprieve. Apart from regular use, the cable will enhance music sharing, video streaming and increased 3D internet. The cable has been laid from the edge of the South African waters to Mozambique and is proceeding in the Red Sea from Egypt towards the coast of Yemen. A third arm of SEACOM's deepwater cable is deployed from India towards Africa, where these three cable segments will be joined. In parallel to the marine installation, SEACOM has made significant strides in land-based construction. The high-performance optical transmission equipment, which connects customers to inland terrestrial networks, has been installed at the Maputo, Mumbai and Djibouti cable landing stations. Construction of the cable station in Kenya is already complete. Similar stations have been erected in Tanzania and South Africa. Equipment installation in these locations and in Egypt, will be complete in April. At each site, SEACOM has taken special precautions to ensure the construction activity is consistent with environmental policy and regulations. As an example, in South Africa, SEACOM recently transferred protected plant species from the cable station site to the Umlalazi National Park with the help of the KwaZulu Natal Wildlife rangers.
SEACOM has also been preparing to provide services to customers by June and recruited over ten experienced local telecommunications professionals from India, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania to operate and maintain the cable stations. Many of these personnel have already been trained at the SEACOM Network Operations Centre in India and are now participating in the testing of the system. A complementary set of personnel is being recruited and will start training in March. These teams will also work with the landing partners' operators in Egypt and Djibouti. Plentiful and readily available bandwidth will result in lower telecommunications costs and new opportunities across many sectors that will include the call centre and business process outsourcing industries. Other life-enhancing disciplines such as educational, clinical and scientific research which rely on the real-time sharing of data around the world will also become a reality for many Africans organizations.
The cable will promote competition in the ICT sector while at the same time encouraging research and development. In South Africa, SEACOM will reduce international bandwidth for universities and research institutions by a whopping 5,000%. Wow!