Seacom has surfaced in SA and is currently being tested
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.