WACS in South Africa: All the details

Telkom today successfully landed the high capacity West African Cable System (WACS) linking Southern Africa and Europe at a new landing point in Yzerfontein in the Western Cape.

The 14,000 km long fibre optic submarine cable system will raise South Africa’s current broadband capacity by over 500 Gigabits per second (Gbps). Spanning the West Coast of Africa and terminating in the United Kingdom, WACS will enable seamless connectivity into the rest of Europe and America.

The system makes use of dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) technology, which enables bi-directional communications over one strand of fibre, as well as the multiplication of capacity.

“Its design of 4 fibre pair and 128 wavelength technology make WACS the largest cable system to ever land in Sub Sahara Africa. It will be capable of carrying the equivalent traffic of Seacom, EASSy and SAT-3/WASC/SAFE cable systems combined. WACS will meet the demand for capacity well into the 1st quarter of the 21st century,” says Dr Angus Hay of Neotel, Co-Chair of the WACS Management Committee.

WACS cable map

“Various reasons led to the choice of Yzerfontein as landing point for WACS and allocating the responsibility to land the cable in South Africa to Telkom. All submarine cables that enter South Africa are located at either Melkbosstrand or Mtunzini, thus effectively two international fibre gateways,” explains Casper Chihaka, Managing Executive: Telkom Wholesale Services.

“Events such as earthquakes or even a large ship dragging its anchor has seen several cables being cut during singular events across the world. South Africa needs a third international fibre gateway to reduce the risk of complete isolation from the rest of the world. Telkom operates submarine cable gateways at Mtunzini, Melkbosstrand and now also at Yzerfontein,” he continues.

Johan MeyerThe Yzerfontein cable station is currently under construction.  Telkom’s executive for global capacity business, Johan Meyer explains that the environmental approval process took over 18 months to complete which held construction back until early April.

Construction of the landing station is however progressing well, and Meyer said that they are aiming for a landing station completion date of July 2011.

The backhaul fibre network to the cable station at Yzerfontein must still be done as well, and Meyer explains that they are working with other operators to establish the best and most cost effective way to build this network and deliver bandwidth to all parties.

Telkom highlighted that with its 140,000 km fibre network comprising amongst others of a DWDM and Automatically Switched Transport/TXM Network (ASTN) it is the best positioned operator to bring the capacity afforded by WACS closer to the bulk business, industry and consumer markets in South Africa.

After all these building blocks are in place, full testing of the cable system will start.  A definite date for commercial testing is not set yet, but Meyer expects this process to start in September/October this year.

Meyer said that they are aiming for a commercial WACS launch in the first quarter of 2012.

WACS will have an initial lit capacity of 500 Gbps, and Meyer said that he expects this capacity to grow quickly to satisfy the ever growing demand for bandwidth.

Meyer added that it is difficult to establish what effect WACS will have on international bandwidth pricing, but looking at historical trends it is safe to assume that prices will come down and operators will get far more bandwidth for the same price.

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WACS in South Africa: All the details