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WACS cable lands in Namibia – due in SA August

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The biggest undersea cable yet to link Africa to the rest of the world, the West Africa Cable System (WACS), has made landfall in Namibia. And it is due to reach South African shores in the next six months, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The long-awaited West Africa Cable System (WACS) has finally shown itself in southern Africa. It landed on the coast of Namibia on February 8, and is due to reach Cape Town in August.

The cable is expected to go live in South Africa a few weeks later. Although no definite date has been given, September 2011 the current target date.

The arrival of the cable in Namibia represents a major breakthrough for telecommunications there, providing the first direct connection for the country to the submarine cable network that spans the globe.

The WACS cable was initiated by the South African government in the form of the Department of Public Enterprises, with its interests now represented by the state-owned Broadband Infraco. Other South African shareholders include MTN Group, Vodacom, Neotel, and Telkom SA. Other signatories to the WACS Construction and Maintenance Agreement, signed in 2009,include Angola Telecom, Cable & Wireless, Telecom Namibia, Portugal Telecom, Sotelco andTogo Telecom. The cable itself is being constructed and laid by Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks.

According to MTN Business, a subsidiary of the MTN Group, the completion of the cable will result in the acceleration of affordable broadband capacity in Namibia.

‚The acceleration of affordable broadband capacity and the convergence of information and communication technologies is starting to take root in the Namibian business arena and is rapidly signalling new ways of conducting business,‚ says Manfred Engling, General Manager of MTN Business Namibia. ‚With this historic landing, the playing field has been levelled with the rest of the world, and we hope to see some of the future ‚next big’ applications come out the local Namibian ICT community.‚

MTN Business says the landing of WACS in Namibia is a massive milestone towards broadband cost cutting becoming a reality and a key enabler to critical telecoms industry development.

‚While it may seem obvious that corporate Namibia wants affordable, reliable services that provide a competitive edge,‚ says Engling, ‚the only way this will become a reality is when the associated cost savings of bandwidth usage are redistributed into enabling organisations to take advantage of emerging trends such as Software-as-a-Service, Cloud Computing and Virtualisation ‚ and the time is now.‚

Engling says that while a long design, build and laying process has been completed for Namibia, supplier-owner collaborative tests are still under way. The key to its success, though, is not so much technical, as in the management structure of the cable. The SAT3-SAFE cable, which was for many years the only cable connecting sub-Saharan Africa to the Internet, was managed and controlled by Telkom, which could dictate all the terms by which customers were connected.

Says Engling: ‚MTN Business is confident that, as they begin to migrate customers over to the cable later in 2011, they will be able to provide a truly reliable, redundant service, one that is hosted and managed by MTN and not outsourced or co-managed through any alternate service provider.‚

MTN Business has invested over $130 million in alternative undersea cables, according to JohnnyAucamp, General Manager: Strategic Relations and Business Development Africa at MTN Business. This, he says, is ‚part of its vision to ensure that by 2011 operations across the African continent and Middle East escape the stranglehold of procuring unreliable and often expensive international bandwidth‚ .

He is adamant that the commoditisation of access inevitable, meaning that prices will drop to a level close to cost price, as multiple competitors all gain access to equivalent pipelines. This is not a bad thing, he says, as the growing demand for convergence, network services and cloud computing, as well as pan-African strategies, means local businesses will require more and more bandwidth.

‚This will require ISPs to focus their attention on the broader business offering which will fundamentally require a different way of thinking – one that takes into account the continuous changes and demands that are set for this market.‚

WACS will be the fourth cable connecting Southern Africa to the undersea cable network.

The first of the cables, SAT3-SAFE cable managed by Telkom, now has a capacity of about 770Gigabits per second. The second cable, the SEACOM cable, controlled by a consortium that includes Neotel’s main shareholder Tata, has a design capacity of 1.28 Terabits per second (Tb/s) ‚ almost double that of the Telkom cable. The third cable, the East African Submarine System (EASSy), with a wide range of shareholders including MTN, Vodacom, Telkom and Neotel, has a design capacity three times the size of SEACOM, at 3.84 Tb/s.

The WACS cable was originally intended to match the EASSy cable, with a capacity of 3.84 Tb/s, but this has been upgraded to 5.12 Tb/s ‚ making it the biggest cable serving the African continent.

– Follow Arthur on Twitter on @art2gee

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