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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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Telcos want one face

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The investments that telecommunications service providers are making in reshaping their online properties into customer-centric portals reflects the growing maturity of self-service and Internet uptake in the industry, says KEVIN MELTZER of Consology.

Many telcos around the world are overhauling their websites to offer customers more holistic portals that give them a single point of entry into the organisation.

They are doing so because they recognise that service will be a key point of differentiation for their businesses in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive. They have also realised that they have a major opportunity to shift customers away from expensive contact centres towards low-cost electronic channels.

In the past, most telecommunications operators ran multiple sites across multiple domains and subdomains. These web-based properties were built around the way that telcos structured their own businesses rather than around the needs of the customer. But we are now seeing the leading operators take a more user-centric approach to the way that they design their web and mobile sites.

This coincides with a change in the industry from slicing customers into numerous segments and then serving them across a range of functional and product areas. For example, many operators split customers into prepaid and postpaid segments or voice and data users, distinctions that are becoming less meaningful in a world of technology convergence. They now want to present a single face to the customer rather than servicing the subscriber through silos.

These changes are starting to percolate through to operators’ customer service and sales strategies. Telcos are starting to pull together disparate products and services that once resided across multiple sites into customer service portals.

These sites put a wide range of information at the subscriber’s fingertips, he adds. Increasingly, for example, subscribers can log directly into their accounts from the operator’s homepage and then access a wealth of services and information. This marks an evolution from the fractured and inconsistent customer experience of the past.

Leading operators are even thinking about how their Self-Service platforms should be integrated with social media strategies to allow customers to pay their electronic bills or top up airtime with a single click from within a social network.

Whereas Self-Service portals on telco sites were once purely about account management functions, they increasingly offer far richer functionality. In addition to allowing subscribers to pay their bills and check their account information, they are also increasingly becoming the first stop for service and commerce.

Operators have started to recognise that splintering their e-commerce, service and account management functions simply makes no sense. Customers want to be able to do everything through one interface rather than needing to visit two or three Web sites, or eventually possibly needing to phone a call centre or visit a store for certain transactions.

Integrated and easy to use online customer service channels will be central for telco operators who want to be competitive in the markets of tomorrow. They form an advantage in an industry where it will be customer relationships rather than cost or service that drive loyalty and purchasing decisions.

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Talk for less with MWEB Talk

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Today, MWEB announced its consumer VoIP package called MWEB Talk, which allows users to make free network calls and get discounted rates made to landlines and mobile phones.

MWEB, today launched its new Voice over IP (VoIP) offering to South African consumers. The service, MWEB Talk, will offer users’ free on network calls to fellow MWEB Talk users’ and cheap calls to landline and mobile phone numbers. This follows the success and demand of the ISP’s existing VoIP products in recent months.

‚”We have seen a noticeable transformation in users’ Internet behaviour with consumers wanting services that complement their ADSL connectivity solution. We have seen phenomenal growth and by the end of the year will deliver over 100 million minutes on our VoIP platform,‚” says Carolyn Holgate, General Manager of MWEB Connect, the ISP’s Consumer and Small Office/ Home Office Division.

MWEB has made significant investments in its infrastructure and VoIP has been prioritised on its network to ensure performance and stability of the MWEB Talk service for both businesses and consumers.

‚”In addition to the high quality of the service, MWEB Talk is also simple to set-up and users’ should experience a significant reduction in their telephone bills. By implementing a VoIP service consumers and small businesses can cut their monthly telecommunication bills by up to 55% to landline and mobile numbers,‚” says Holgate.

With no subscription fee, existing MWEB customers can log into their MWEB account, register for the service and download the application for PC and Mac as well as mobile applications that turn an iPhone, Android, and Nokia smartphone into a VoIP phone. Customers will also be able to purchase a Desktop VoIP Handset for R99 which will be HD voice ready and will support multi-extensions.

‚”We believe that VoIP is the future of telephony in South Africa and we are extremely excited to see the consumer market shift into the VoIP space,‚” concludes Holgate.

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