Is SEACOM racing past EASSy?

SEACOM is forging ahead while EASSy is still trying to get its act together.

Is SEACOM racing past EASSy?

SEACOM – a planned undersea fiber optic cable system on the East coast of Africa – has recently announced that Tyco Telecommunications have begun a marine survey on the route to connect South and East Africa to global networks in India, the Middle East and Europe.

They also announced that the cable will be operational by the first quarter of 2009, a similar time frame for the alternative East Coast cable – EASSy. But while EASSy seems increasingly bogged down by political interference, SEACOM is forging ahead with a business-as-usual focus.

SEACOM plans to sell ‘cheap bandwidth’ that will encourage volume discounts and large bandwidth growth. The SEA Cable System is being designed with a nominal capacity of 1 280 Gb/s comprised of two fiber pairs which are expected to connect South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya to India and Europe.

According to the Financial Times, new fiber links can drive down the current price of one megabit per second of bandwidth in East Africa. The current prices range from between US 7,500 and US 12,000 a month, the new cable system is expected to lower prices to between US 500 and US 800 a month.

SEACOM is however only one of many East African cable projects in the pipeline, others include EASSy, TEAMS, Flag and the Nepad Broadband Network Project. Of these EASSy is enjoying the most attention in South Africa with various parties pinning their hopes on this open access system to bring down the price of international bandwidth.

EASSy struggling

But while SEACOM seems to be making good progress, EASSy – which started back in 2003 – is increasingly becoming entangled in the web of political interference.

In a recent Communications Portfolio Committee briefing on the Nepad protocol, Lyndall Shope-Mafole, Director General of the Department of Communications, was questioned on EASSy and its compliance with the NEPAD system.

The Department of Communications said that EASSy did not conform to the NEPAD ICT Network Protocol.

According to official transcripts Shope-Mafole further said that a meeting had taken place to inform Telkom that the EASSy cable could not land on South African soil. This came after a group of African telecommunications companies, including Telkom SA, MTN (Uganda) and VSNL International signed construction and maintenance agreements for the EASSy Cable.

Shope-Mafole’s statement raises questions as to EASSy’s future potential as an alternative to the SAT3/SAFE system.

The Nepad Broadband Infrastructure Network – a consortium of African governments that broke away from EASSy after disputes over control of the project (from Financial Times) – also does not seem to be making much progress.

EASSy is still being bantered around as the solution to SA’s international connectivity problems but it may just be SEACOM that comes to the fore and provides the bandwidth needed for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

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