With the news that the much delayed EASSy submarine cable has finally landed at Mtunzini, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, one of the most frantic periods of network construction has completed. The cable, a 10,000km undersea cable aims to connect sub-Saharan Africa with various parts of the world by next year. It is one of three cables landing on the east African seaboard that are transforming access to bandwidth in the countries served. All have suffered delays, whether through funding issues, partnership resolution or plain bad luck.
The latest to land, EASSy, is now set to deliver on its promise to link Sudan to South Africa via Dijibouti, Somalia, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mozambique. Its undersea element consists of landing points at Port Sudan, Dijibouti, Mogadishu, Dar Es Salaam, Maputo and Toliary in Madagascar in addition to the Mtunzini landing.
In July last year, rival cable system, SEACOM, a 1.28Tb, 17,000km link went live. It also links east Africa to global networks via India and Europe and has revolutionised bandwidth availability. A month after its launch one Kenyan commentator quipped that it was now possible to download a 100MB file in under five minutes but bemoaned a failure by service providers to pass on the decreased cost of connection the cable provides.
What each cable has in common is that they link vast swathes of the eastern seaboard with huge fibre-optic capacity, thereby decreasing the region's reliance on satellite communications. The fact that there are now several cable options means service providers can assemble offerings that allow for full redundancy and negotiations can be entered into to extend capacity to inland countries and markets. It has been estimated that East African markets spent an excess of between US$700,000 and US$800,000 each month on satellite links which can now be shifted to these cables for as little as 10% of the cost. The extent to which those savings will be passed on to end users is still open to interpretation. What is clear is that these markets have, almost overnight, become served by state of the art bandwidth and the new opportunities for business and commerce that brings.