Plugged in

Sea­com has sur­faced in SA and is cur­rently be­ing tested

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & Technology - SI­MON DIN­GLE si­mond@fin­week.co.za

THE UN­DER­SEA CA­BLE, which will be the first of six projects to bol­ster in­ter­na­tional band­width avail­abil­ity for Africa, has com­pleted its trip to South Africa and is cur­rently be­ing tested. Sea­com says it’s on sched­ule to go live on 27 June. The ca­ble project ex­ploded in the me­dia last week, prompt­ing some to won­der why there hadn’t more news about it in the months lead­ing up to the an­nounce­ment of its ar­rival in SA. It turns out the rea­son for its seem­ingly sud­den emer­gence has to do with dan­gers on the high seas.

The 1,3 ter­abit Sea­com ca­ble – in essence no thicker that a few strands of hu­man hair that are then en­cased in ar­mour for pro­tec­tion – has been pro­gress­ing down the east­ern coast of Africa for months but en­tered a pe­riod of me­dia si­lence to min­imise the threat of piracy.

Sea­com pres­i­dent Brian Her­lihy says re­cent pi­rate at­tacks on ships such as the Sir­ius Star oil tanker showed no ves­sel was too big to be a tar­get for pi­rates. Her­lihy was speak­ing at a pre­sen­ta­tion to mem­bers of the press and blog­gers flown to KwaZulu-Natal on 28 May for a me­dia brief­ing and in­spec­tion of the Sea­com land­ing site at Mtun­zini.

Her­lihy says pi­rates are me­dia-savvy, and Sea­com didn’t want to give away the co-or­di­nates or ex­act tim­ing of the ca­ble­lay­ing ships be­long­ing to its part­ner, Tyco Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions. “Pri­vate gun­ships were em­ployed to pro­tect the Tyco ves­sel lay­ing the ca­ble. It was one of those things where we re­ally are in a true force du jour sit­u­a­tion and couldn’t just sit back. It was about hu­man safety at that point,” Her­lihy says. “So we went into a quiet pe­riod and we’re now emerg­ing from that and have be­gun test­ing at each ca­ble sta­tion and mov­ing into that fi­nal stage.”

Her­lihy says the project is on track for Sea­com to go on­line late in June and he ex­pects an al­most im­me­di­ate re­sult­ing price re­duc­tion to band­width re­sellers on top of what’s al­ready been ex­pe­ri­enced.

How­ever, ex­tend­ing those sav­ings to cus­tomers in SA re­lies on solid reg­u­la­tory mea­sures, the par­tic­i­pa­tion of lo­cal telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions providers and the bol­ster­ing of in­ter­nal con­nec­tiv­ity.

“You only re­ally see the full po­ten­tial and full con­nec­tiv­ity of th­ese ca­bles if the na­tional back­bone in­fra­struc­ture is in place,” says Frost and Sul­li­van’s Lind­sey MacDon­ald. Other an­a­lysts have pre­dicted real sav­ings won’t be seen un­til other ca­ble projects – such as the West African Ca­ble Sys­tem (WACS) – land in 2011.

Says Her­lihy: “Cur­rently, SA’s 40 to 50 gi­ga­bits of ca­pac­ity – thanks to the SAT3 up­grade – is quite im­pres­sive com­pared to last year, when it was 20 gi­ga­bits. I think with Sea­com we’ll see that dou­bling and that should end up in the cus­tomer’s lap as an im­prove­ment in qual­ity of ser­vice.

“Ul­ti­mately, Sea­com sells to the car­ri­ers – we’re in the whole­sale busi­ness. As a re­ac­tion to Sea­com we’ve al­ready seen Telkom’s in­ter­na­tional band­width prices come down quite a bit. But as this band­width comes on­line we think more price drops will hap­pen. We think there should be an­other 30% to 40% im­me­di­ately.

“Ul­ti­mately, you may see a com­bi­na­tion of prices drop­ping and the amount of band­width to end users in­creas­ing. So it might not be pure price re­duc­tion but it may be you’re get­ting dou­ble the ser­vice for the same price,” he says.

The Sea­com ca­ble sur­faces at Mt­inzini and is con­nected to a cen­tral ex­change in Midrand, Gaut­eng. It ex­tends up the east coast of Africa, con­nect­ing into sev­eral coun­tries, and then into Europe and on to the rest of the world via in­ter­con­nects.

At Mtun­zini the ca­ble runs in un­der the ocean’s floor and wildlife is pre­served without dis­turb­ing the beach. “We’re sit­ting in a bud­ding and nat­u­ral re­serve so we had to start from be­low the water­line and do a hor­i­zon­tal drill from the wa­ter un­der­neath the re­serve to the ac­tual land­ing sta­tion. So you can imag­ine drilling 20m be­low the ocean floor and on to the land.” The ca­ble emerges 850m be­low the land­ing sta­tion.

The un­der­sea ca­ble con­nects to the Mt­inzini land­ing sta­tion in this grey box. The thin yel­low ca­ble is Sea­com.

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