Wacs to hit South African shores soon

Wacs will provide internet bandwidth
of at least 5.12 Tbps.
(Image: Many Possibilities)

The new fibre optic cable will boost
bandwidth connectivity in Africa.
(Image: Bongani Nkosi)

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Wacs cable gets the green light

Bongani Nkosi

South Africa will receive another major broadband connectivity boost when the submarine West African Cable System (Wacs) lands on the country’s shores at Yzerfontein in the Western Cape at the end of April 2011.

MTN, one of the investors in the fibre-optic cable, announced the expected arrival in a press statement on 6 April.

Once installation is complete, Wacs will stretch along 14 000km from South Africa to London in the UK, connecting African countries along the Atlantic Ocean coast. It will have landing stations in 15 countries.

When it launches, the U$650-million (R4.3-billion) cable will be the most extensive to ever land in Africa, after Seacom and the East African Cable System (Eassy), and will provide internet bandwidth of at least 5.12 Tbps.

Wacs landed in Swakopmund, Namibia, in February, becoming the first cable to offer direct bandwidth access in that country. The landlocked Botswana celebrated the landing alongside neighbouring Namibia, as it will benefit from a terrestrial link to the cable.

MTN is the largest investor in Wacs, having pumped in $90 million (R602-million). The group will be one of the first to receive its bandwidth for retail when the cable goes live within the next three months.

Vodacom, Telkom and the state-owned Broadband Infraco are three other South African groups which are part of the consortium funding Wacs’ development.

Karel Pienaar, MTN South Africa’s managing director, said the new fibre-optic cable will boost broadband capacity throughout the continent. “Wacs will provide millions of MTN subscribers across Africa the much-needed bandwidth and will go a long way towards catapulting Africa into the digital age.

“Lack of bandwidth on the continent has arrested the development of Africa and has constrained the continent from achieving its full potential.”

Broadband strides in Africa

Wacs comes into an environment where seven other major undersea cables are already active in Africa. This existing fibre-optic infrastructure has seen internet usage on the continent shoot up over the last few years.

According to Internet World Stats, about 111-million people in Africa were using the internet in 2010. Nigeria, Africa’s most densely populated country, had about 44-million users, which represents a massive increase from a mere 200 000 users in 2000.

More than 17-million Egyptians were using the internet in 2010, and South Africa had 5.3-million users.

This substantial growth would not have been possible without the introduction of cables like Seacom, SAT3/SAFE, Eassy, Main One, Glo 1, Lion and Teams.

The recent drop of broadband connectivity charges in Botswana was linked to the services of the 10 000km Eassy cable. The country’s government ordered telecoms to cut retail rates following the terrestrial connection to Eassy.

Major cables coming up

Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) will be the next big fibre-optic submarine cable to connect Africa to the rest of the world. It will run from South Africa along West Africa to France. The 5.12 Tbps ultra-high-speed ACE is expected to go live in the third quarter of 2012.

The Lion 2 cable will only be 3 000km and will run between Kenya and Madagascar. It’s aimed at improving bandwidth capacity on the island nation.

The 1.28 Tbps cable will also strengthen Kenya’s connectivity to international networks. It’s scheduled to go live in the first half of 2012.

The Seychelles East Africa System (Seas) will start offering bandwidth in 2012. The 1 900km cable will directly link the Seychelles to Africa’s international network via Tanzania.