Toward A Pan-African Ring

April 26th, 2010 by · 6 Comments

The big bandwidth plans in Africa just keep on rolling in.  Today eFive, SEACOM, and Main One, and announced their intention to cooperate on building a pan-African fiber ring. The objective is seamless connectivity and increased redundancy on both the east and west coasts of Africa.

The first phase of Main One, which is scheduled to come online in June, connects London to Nigeria via Portugal and other points along the way.   This is essentially the physical manifestation of phase two of the plan, adding a 7000km cable that finishes the job linking Nigeria with South Africa.  SEACOM, which was just completed last year, runs from Marseilles through the Suez Canal and all the way down the east coast of Africa to South Africa.  That cable can therefore meet Main One and the two can offer each other physically diverse links back to Europe.

For its part, eFive will raise the money to build the cable, which is estimated at $400M.  They will work with Nova Capital Africa, an investment banking group focusing on the region.

High hopes for a bandwidth explosion via SEACOM have thus far met with the realities of actual economics and many layers of infrastructure, the cable wasn’t open a month before there were complaints that utopia had not yet arrived.  There’s a lot of work to be done yet, but I’m glad to see the long term plans in the region remain in play.

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Categories: Undersea cables

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6 Comments So Far

  • Frank A. Coluccio says:

    Hi Rob.

    The plans remain in play, as you stated, and there’s every reason to believe the deep water and shore sides of these ventures (barring issues caused by pirates at sea) will unfold in a relatively timely manner.

    The main issues however are overland, in both back-haul and cross-border routes, not to mention the banditry that the region is noted for with respect to sabotage and pilfering for salvage purposes (yes, even fiber), and where major sections of backbone construction have already resulted in significant problems.

    See, for example:

    Uganda: Huawei Now Ordered to Fix Fibre-Optic Errors

    Note at the bottom of the page my note [FAC …] relating to the multi-purposing of builds (which in this case appears to have been done in an grotesquely uncoordinated manner, if the report is accurate), which multi-purposing the World Bank encourages in no small way for developing regions.

  • Frank A. Coluccio says:

    At the ~ 7min30sec mark of this 12-minute podcast, Interoute Italia’s Renzo Ravaglia discusses piracy issues that present when laying cable off the East Coast of Africa, along with a lot of other good stuff related to logistics, wholesaling, and more:

    SubTel Forum Podcast – Episode 3: SEACOM
    Monday, July 27th, 2009

    An interview with Renzo Ravaglia of Interoute about the new SEACOM submarine cable system in Africa.


    (hint: best to download to iTunes or Real)


    • Anon says:

      I think it’s hilarious having Interoute talk about SEACOM as if they had anything to do with it. They were just selected by SEACOM to be their preferred (not exclusive) capacity extension partner from Marseilles into Europe. They haven’t taken any capacity on it and aren’t an investor, and didn’t even provide the European landing station either.

  • anon says:

    Africa already has a ring (by the way) and will have the ability to provide pretty resilient services in the near future (SAT3/SAFE, SEACom, EASSy, TEAMS) with the WACS consortium cable also being built. Given that WACS will be owned by many of the regions heavyweight users of bandwidth – I have to worry that new investors into this space are not going to get the returns they were expecting – as has happened all to often in the world of subsea. It is not for the feint hearted. The comment about terrestrial infrastructure is also correct – but at least with low(er) cost international capacity becoming available, the chicken egg cycle has been (or will have been) broken.

    • Rob Powell says:

      Indeed, the capacity seems likely to arrive long before the economies in the region are likely to be able to use it and therefore pay for it. Sometimes I wonder if some of those behind all these African buildouts are willfully ignoring just how hard it will be just to break that chicken/egg conundrum once and for all.

      • Anon says:

        It depends on what you are using the capacity for. If you already have substantial operations in the region (TSA, Vodacom, MTN, Tata, FT/Orange, Zain …) then your own traffic requirements across the various landing points would justify the cable investments. It is different if you a speculator/global operator with minimal in-region presence (BT, VzB, AT&T, C&W etc) then you are in a much more exposed position. As it is, in Africa I do have to wonder about the viability of private cables in general for the next few years – it’s a lot of cost and risk to load onto something with no traffic-generating owner. Will SEACOM survive? The economics don’t look good (~$450M to build, $250M in sales – where will you get the next $200+M of buyers?), and we’ll have to wait and see with MainOne, but I fear the same situation.

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