Friday, 24 July 2009

Seacom has landed

The much vaunted Seacom undersea cable, linking Africa to Europe, landed this week and many of us waited expectantly for our internet speeds to move into the 21st century. If you have been following developments on Twitter, you will know already that for some people the dream is reality and for others like “MwendaRiungu: The #Seacom undersea fibre optic cable has landed in Kenyan coast, 5 ISPs hooked up, then......nothing! Still waiting....... “ it has completely failed to deliver.

If truth be told, most criticism does seem to be coming from the East African community, both in terms of bandwidth speeds, non-disclosure of which ISPs have signed with Seacom and with the fact that pricing remains largely unchanged. Perhaps the very effective Seacom PR machine should have added an element of expectation management to its strategy?

The reality is that many of Kenya’s ISPs are still tied into satellite contracts and will need to wait until these conclude before investing capital in buying space on Seacom. Also, less Kenyans have internet access than South Africans - which means that less people are sharing the bandwidth and infrastructure costs. Over time, as more people ‘go online’ this should hopefully help to drive down costs.

In South Africa, the promised massive reduction in bandwidth costs (up to 40%) making Internet access much cheaper for South African users is also not likely to be felt any time soon. In fact, analysts reckon that only corporations are likely to see a drastic drop in their Internet bill and consumers will continue to pay high tariffs for voice and data services. The launch of the Seacom cable does, however, mean that there is now some competition in a market that has been monopolistic for years.

At the launch yesterday, Cyril Ramaphosa said that Seacom would serve as “a catalyst for the east and south of Africa to speed up its economic development”. In South Africa, rumour has it that Telkom is buying space on Seacom and in Kenya it is unofficially official that Safaricom is one of the ISPs hooking up. Students in South Africa will be among the first people to directly benefit as TENET, the university network, was connected to Seacom yesterday.

While the Seacom landing is going to continue to fuel debate over the next few weeks, some positive, some cynical and much disillusioned, the one sure thing is that it is a significant step forward for bandwidth creation in East and southern Africa. Seacom will soon be joined by two further cables. The East African Marine System (Teams), scheduled for completion later in 2009, will link Kenya and the United Arab Emirates, and the Eastern African Submarine Cable System (Eassy), which lands in many of the same countries as Seacom, is expected to start service in mid-2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment