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Universities connect to SEACOM in historic link-up

Dark Fibre Africa, the company responsible for laying down most of the fibre optic cables criss-crossing South Africa’s major cities, will tomorrow link up the new SEACOM undersea cable with one of SEACOM’s first South African clients. The university network, TENET, will use the link to increase access to students across the country in the biggest upgrade since academic access to the Internet was initiated with a single phone link in 1987.
Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), which provides an open access fibre optic network infrastructure, will tomorrow officially hand over the first commercial fibre optic route linking the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (TENET) to the SEACOM cable landing site at Mtunzini. This will significantly increase bandwidth supply and improve international connectivity for research institutions in South Africa. DFA is also well advanced in rolling out its national high-speed broadband fibre network infrastructure.

As a result, students wil probably be the first significant target market to experience a dramatic improvement in access, both in terms of amount and quality.

TENET, a non-profit organisation, runs a national research and education network of more than 100 research sites within SA, and they will use DFA’s infrastructure to link these sites to the Mtunzini SEACOM cable, thus providing them with access to international gateways and substantially increased bandwidth needed for world class research and education services.  It is responsible for securing connectivity and associated services for the institutions which include all 23 of South Africa’s universities and most of the research councils.

Until now, Telkom provided TENET’s connectivity, with site connections to the backbone network varying from 128 kbps to more than 20 Mbps for the connections to the main campuses of large universities. Some 70% of traffic carried across the backbone network came from or was destined for foreign networks. When Telkom commissioned the last batch of upgrade orders fro, TENET, the TENET institutions were able to use 175 Mbps of dedicated bandwidth on the SAT-3 submarine cable.  However, this came at a high cost: the monthly charge from Telkom was around R7 million, all of which derived from the user institutions themselves. As a result, universities continued to place strict limits on student usage.

The deal with SEACOM, said TENET CEO Duncan Martin at the time it was announced two years ago, “provides for us to acquire the use of 10Gbps wavelength from SEACOM’s Mtunzini landing station, in KwaZulu-Natal (the same beach on which the SAFE cable comes ashore, but not the same facility), to London. The agreement gives TENET the right of use for the life of the cable (expected to be 20 years) and allows TENET to make the bandwidth available to education and research institutions in SA and in neighbouring countries on a cost-recovery basis.”

And the total deal came at a cost which works out at less than a hundredth of what it would have cost to continue using Telkom only for the next seven years.

The DFA connection, in turn, allows this access to be distributed to most TENET sites with little compromise in quality of access.

“The deal with DFA,” says Martin, “provides us with up to 10Gbps from SEACOM’s Mtunzini landing station in KwaZulu-Natal.”

“The link for TENET, from Mtunzini to Durban, was the fastest rollout of an infrastructure network in the history of SA fibre deployment,” says DFA Executive: Sales and Marketing, Malcolm Kirby, adding that this 153 kilometre stretch was completed within two months. DFA’s speed and its use of sophisticated trenching equipment enabled it to roll out the link at over 2 kilometres per day per team.
“With the launch of SEACOM’s undersea cable, bandwidth supply will be increased significantly. We are anticipating a bandwidth revolution. Consumers can look forward to substantially faster and cheaper internet connectivity in the near future,” says Kirby.

The TENET network is the successor to Uninet, the universities’ network which evolved from a single phone connection linking Rhodes University to a small Internet service provider in the United States in 1987. Mike Lawrie, one of the key figures in setting up the connection and building it into a national academic network, also headed up Uninet.

Other ISPs

DFA has concluded agreements with other telecommunications and internet service providers, to use its infrastructure to further connect networks and eliminate duplication.

DFA plans to complete its fibre network connecting Mtunzini and Johannesburg by early 2010. “We decided to take the long route and not merely follow the N3 to ensure that major towns such as Piet Retief, Ermelo, Richards Bay and Vryheid are covered by our network, thus also providing them access to international gateways and increased bandwidth,” says Kirby.

DFA is well positioned to meet the needs of telecommunications and internet service providers as it is currently the only company able to offer infrastructure management and monitored fibre connections to SEACOM.

“DFA offers a secure network with access control and audit trails and will also serve other undersea cables such as Eassy in future,” says Gustav Smit, CEO of DFA.

About DFA

Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), which started rolling out its network in metropolitan areas in October 2007, specialises in the financing, building and installation of carrier neutral, open access, ducting infrastructure of fibre optic cables (dark fibre). This infrastructure is commissioned by licensed telecom and Internet service providers, and the dark fibre is ‘lit’ when the service providers transmit and provide high speed data, voice and video services to their customers.

DFA is carrier neutral and does not compete with the users of its service. Its state-of-the-art, secure ducting infrastructure, enables large users of communications capacity to enjoy logical separation and ownership of communications capability, whilst sharing the same physical right of way access routes with their customers.

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