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How fast can you read this article? (SEACOM goes live)

This article has been uploaded to Gadget via a direct link to the new SEACOM undersea cable. At the official switch-on of the cable, live video links to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique demonstrated the true potential of the network, as the President of Tanzania addressed an audience in Midrand in high-definition video over the cable. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK was there.

President: Kikwete presented a vision of e-government, e-health and ‚e-everything‚ coming to East Africa.

The high-definition TV link was carried over an STN1 connection on the SEACOM cable ‚ a connection which represents a 155Mbps chunk of the SEACOM cable’s total capacity of 1,28 Terabits per second, or about 1/800th of its capacity. However, the actual bandwidth speed being used during the feed amounted to only about 12Mbps, the speed of three fast ADSL lines to a home combined.

The dozens of media at the official switch-on of the SEACOM undersea cable no doubt found the most impressive thing about the launch to be access to near-unlimited download speeds, along with content downloads on a scale they had previously only dreamed about.

At one stage at the Neotel data centre in Midrand where the launch announcement was made, according to a technical source, journalists connected to the LAN points in the auditorium were using data at a combined rate of 42Mb/s for download, and 31Mb/s upload. This is equivalent to the data use of a medium-to-large corporation in Johannesburg at any given moment.

However, the most dramatic indication of the power of SEACOM was the quality of live video links to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique. Addresses by, among other, a range of dignitaries, executives and the President of Tanzania, were carried live to large screens at simultaneous events in each of these countries.

The quality of the video, on large screen, was on a par with hi-definition video broadcasts using digital TV. The compressed TV stream being carried on the SEACOM cable was using only 12Mb/s.

The quality achieved in this context provided an indication of the power of undiluted bandwidth. A typical 1Mbps ADSL link to a South African home seldom operates at more than half that speed, and seldom does so consistently and continuously, meaning that even a YouTube video is still choppy, endlessly waiting for the video to buffer. At the Neotel data centre, a link to YouTube buffered complete 3-minute music videos within the first few seconds of viewing the video, ensuring a smooth viewing and listening experience to the end.

Gadget downloaded the audiobook version of ‚Free‚ , by Chris Anderson (from, a mere 285MB Zip file. The first 100MB downloaded in four minutes. The rest took another four minutes.

But it was the quality achieved in the video links to the rest of Africa that indicated the true capacity of undiluted bandwidth, i.e. bandwidth not shared ‚ the term used in the industry is ‚contended‚ ‚ with hundreds of other users, and not affected by numerous interconnections via third parties that are themselves connected via third parties.

With the arrival of the SEACOM cable, it will over time become possible to establish a better balance between heavily contended consumer connections and uncontended, pure bandwidth.

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