Where's all the bandwidth?

2010-06-09 00:00

MANY South Africans are in the dark (not literally, thanks to Eskom keeping the lights on) but rather about the amount of international bandwidth available in the country.

Seacom has been live for just under a year, and has to date lit up 90 Gbps of capacity. This is across the entire system. Its connection to Mtunzini (ie South Africa) provides 10 Gbps. That capacity is already sold out, says landing partner Neotel, and there are talks under way to provision more capacity. One doesn’t have to be that close to the action to guess that an announcement will be made soon.

The entire Seacom system has a design capacity of 1,28 Tbps, depending on the portion of the cable, leaving plenty of room for growth. Seacom hopes to complete a critical portion of its system, between the Gulf of Aden and Europe (in the Red Sea), by the end of June.

This will end its reliance on the troubled Sea-Me-We 4 cable which it uses to connect to Europe. This cable has been damaged recently and has been taken offline a number of times for maintenance, which has played havoc with ADSL users in South Africa.

Telkom (JSE:TKG), a member of the SAT-3/SAFE submarine cable consortium, announced its increased capacity for the two cables late last year (340 Gbps to Portugal, 440 Gbps to Malaysia). A portion of the extra capacity has been reserved for the extra bandwidth demands during the World Cup, with Telkom also admitting to using Seacom capacity for redundancy.

The World Cup-related bandwidth on SAT-3/SAFE will no doubt be available post-July.

Eassy, which was scheduled to be complete by the World Cup, has been delayed by pirate activity off the horn of Africa. Seacom was faced with the same challenges while laying its cable.

There is confusion about the status of Eassy, considering it landed at Mtunzini in KwaZulu- Natal in February, but the system is not yet fully provisioned. The pirate activity has led to the lighting up of Eassy to be delayed to August.

The East African Marine System (Teams) links Mombasa, Kenya, with the United Arab Emirates. The cable has a capacity of 1,2 Tbps, of which 120 Gbps was provisioned at the start a year ago. The cable is significant in that it is a redundant link for East Africa, lessening the area’s reliance on Seacom.

Added to this is the West African Cable System (WACS) which goes live in mid-2011. There is no real detail about how this is progressing, but this undersea cable is the big gorilla. Its design capacity is at least 3,84 Tbps (10 times that of the newly upgraded SAT-3).

Telkom, Vodacom, MTN (JSE:MTN) and Neotel (through Tata) are all investors in WACS, and this ownership should mean that bandwidth savings are passed through to consumers quicker than with the current providers.

Main One, a system linking Nigeria to Europe, is almost complete. Main One, investment outfit eFive Telecoms and Seacom have signed a memorandum of understanding which could accelerate the second phase of the cable, a link between Nigeria and South Africa. This could create a redundant system with links around the west and east of Africa.

Analysts predict that the lighting up of Main One will translate into an immediate 50% drop in the price of bandwidth in Nigeria and Ghana. This is significant, seeing as the undeniable thirst for bandwidth in West Africa has seen another cable — Glo-1 — launched last October. It also links Nigeria to Europe, with a current capacity of 640 Gbps.

The gold rush isn’t over. Last weekend, 25 African countries met to sign the construction agreement for the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable system. It is scheduled for commercial use in 2012, and by that stage, South Africans may just have so much bandwidth we won’t know what to do with it all.

• Hilton Tarrant contributes to “Broadband”, a column on Money­web covering the ICT sector in South Africa.

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