SEACOM outages and cable progress

SEACOM’s launch in 2009 was heralded as a watershed moment in the history of South African and African telecommunications, promising cheap international bandwidth and better broadband services.

It was not long before SEACOM’s effect was felt in the local market, and according to SEACOM’s Head of Sales Martin Sanne, the expansion of the SEACOM network system has exceeded expectations in 2010 with more than 110Gbps of capacity in operation.

SEACOM’s ride has been less than smooth, and South African consumers and service provides have grown accustomed to regular outages on the SEACOM system.

SEACOM outages

In April this year SEACOM was struck by its first prolonged outage, caused by a fault on the Mediterranean section of the SEA-ME-WE 4 submarine cable system which SEACOM uses to connect to Europe.

SEACOM was subsequently plagued by outages caused by faults on the submarine cable portion and problems with its terrestrial network provided by its partners in South Africa.

One of SEACOM’s clients has described the situation as ‘unacceptable’, adding that many people are sick and tired of the continued problems with the cable system.

Consumers are equally frustrated with SEACOM outages, with comments like “Seacom fail, again”, “quite disappointing… any news on how EASSY can help with the problem?” and “SEACOM seems to go down more often than Divine Brown.”

Improving reliability

Most of SEACOM’s downtime is caused by its partners, including its reliance on SEA-ME-WE 4 for connectivity between Egypt and France.

It therefore makes sense for SEACOM to limits its reliance on other networks to increase its uptime and start to remedy its reputation as an unreliable system, and this was actually always envisaged.

SEACOM announced in April that it was on track to finalize its own link through the Red Sea and over Egypt by the end of June 2010. “With this piece of the mesh finally in place, another critical alternative for traffic routing will become available thereby further reducing the impact of network outages for African users,” said SEACOM.

The June ETA came and went without much feedback from SEACOM, and when the company was asked for feedback about its progress in August and October they would not say anything about the matter.

It is understood that it is a very sensitive political issue, and a source close to the SEACOM developments indicated that SEACOM is finding it challenging to complete its network through Egypt.

Better reliability promised

SEACOM has now shed more light on the matter. According to Sanne, SEACOM has successfully completed various projects over the last year, including the completion of measures to improve quality of service, network resiliency with the acquisition of capacity on other cable systems.

SEACOM has also completed the upgrade and expansion of East African and SADC backhaul, and also made good progress on multiple direct routes across the Red Sea.

“SEACOM has evolved into more than a single cable system, it is a network,” said Sanne.

“Although some of the original plans for Egypt are delayed due to circumstances beyond the control of SEACOM, significant progress has been made in the region. Presently, all construction activities related to the SEACOM cable in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea are complete,” said Sanne.

“SEACOM anticipates that the outstanding interconnects, which will enable connectivity from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and beyond, will be complete by 31 March 2011.”

Damaged reputation needs to be improved

SEACOM’s continued problems may be good news for competitors such as EASSy and SAT-3/SAFE, unless SEACOM starts to convince the market that downtime on the system is something of the past.

The higher fees associated with the SAT-3/SAFE system has been explained in terms of service levels and redundancy, and ISPs such as Web Africa, which specifically selected SAT-3/SAFE to ensure higher service levels, have a good reason to smile.

EASSy was also quick to point out last week, only hours after the SEACOM downtime started, that their system can boast 100% network reliability since they launched commercial services in early August 2010.

EASSy further announced that they are set to double their ‘lit capacity,’ utilising the latest 40Gbps wavelength technology, bringing even more capacity to the East Coast of Africa.

With the West Africa Cable System (WACS) on track to become operational in the second half of 2011, reliability and service levels may well become the deciding factor for service providers when selecting an international bandwidth partner.

SEACOM may therefore be well advised to rid itself of its unreliability stigma as soon as possible, to ensure that it does not lose business in future.

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SEACOM outages and cable progress