Friday, 31 July 2009

East Africa wired!

East Africa suddenly finds itself inundated with optical fibre cable: the SEACOM cable went live just last week and hot on its heels is the Kenya Government sponsored TEAMS cable which is expected to be switched on in August – both cables battling to claim first-mover advantage and sell as much capacity as possible, as quickly as possible. The next attractions will be the EASSy cable and the France Telecom-owned Lion cable, which should both be connected within the next 8-12 months.

And so the region which has been inhibited by poor telecommunications infrastructure will literally have cable coming out of its ears by the end of 2010!

The first (and most anticipated) area of positive impact is cost. Even though the SEACOM consortium was quick to warn the public that they will have to wait a little longer for cheaper internet as industry players first want to recoup their investments, for countries which have largely been dependent on exorbitantly priced satellite connectivity, the region should still enjoy a noticeable drop in costs. This is because where satellite communication providers were charging as high as USD 7000 per megabyte, the SEACOM consortium will offer wholesale prices in the range of USD 100 per megabyte, with even more subsidised costs of between USD 10-25 to schools, research and health institutions. This is great news for businesses, learning institutions and individuals whose operating expenses will experience some relief in the medium to long term.

In addition to cost benefits, the region’s residents will finally be plugged into the world through reliable telecommunications infrastructure. What a dearth of opportunities this offers east Africa! The increased capacity via broadband internet will enable us to get more done faster - including, for instance, the ability to work collaboratively and securely across great distances, reliable video conferencing, even live streaming of audio visual content in a heartbeat and crystal clear VoIP calls. ‘Regular’ voice calls, international calls in particular, will also now be cheaper and more stable.

Governments in the region should quickly realise progress towards their anticipated socio-economic transformations as universal internet access draws even closer to becoming a reality. They have spent the last few years trying to understand and prepare for post-fibre East Africa - putting in place boards to manage and implement their ICT strategies and building policy and regulatory capacity in preparation for the changes that fibre will bring to their countries that cover critical areas such as identity theft, online transactions, the legality of e-communication and so on. They also expect to see business booming in the Business Process Outsourcing & Offshoring sector and countries like Kenya have already invested in marketing themselves as BPO destinations in Europe and North America.

This level of commitment is great for the region. It should inspire the confidence to stimulate the investments required to get more people and businesses online, moving transactions to cyber space in a region that has been reluctant to do so primarily for internet security reasons.

The push for the 24 hour economy just got a boost with fibre being able to support the communication requirements of companies that would seek to eliminate the traditional working environment altogether, enabling employees to work flexibly in terms of time and location.

The real value of optical fibre is in what the mwananchi (a.k.a. the guy on the street) does with it... the innovative African spirit has been waiting for infrastructure that is robust enough to support its ingenuity and now it’s finally here.

I can hardly wait to see what we do with it!

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