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WACS doubles SA broadband capacity

This week, the much anticipated ultra high-capacity West Africa Cable System (WACS) linking Southern Africa and Europe landed at Yzerfontein in the Western Cape.

The 14 000km long fibre optic submarine cable system will effectively 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.

Manufactured and installed by Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Cable Networks (ASN), the 4 fibre pair system has been under construction since 2009. The total project cost will not exceed $650 million. An initiative by the WACS Consortium, whose South African members consist of Broadband Infraco, MTN, Telkom SA Ltd, Neotel and Vodacom Group Ltd, the cable has 15 established terminal stations along route and will function to reduce the cost to connect the west coast of Africa into the high-speed global telecommunications network for many years to come.

Designed to support present and future Internet, e-commerce, data, video and voice services, the capacity of the entire system is 5.12 terabits per second (Tbps). The system makes use of dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) technology, which enables bidirectional communications over one strand of fiber, as well as the multiplication of capacity. The initial capacity of WACS is over 500 Gbps and is upgradable at any stage of the project. The robustness of the design will also enable the system to accommodate the latest developments in submarine fibre-optic technology.

Representatives from Telkom, Neotel, Broadband Infraco, MTN, Vodacom

In addition to complementing existing high-bandwidth cable systems in the region, as well as supply first time fibre connectivity to several West African countries, WACS will provide much needed diversity for large volume broadband traffic from South Africa to Europe.

‚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.

‚The African continent still yearns for affordable higher speed connectivity. Meeting the needs for increased capacity along the cable route, this network will enable the landing countries to be served by a system offering significant capacity and lowering the cost of broadband in support of economic growth and innovative applications such as e-education and e-health that can positively impact peoples’ lives,‚ says Dr Andrew Shaw, Interim CEO of Broadband Infraco.

‚We’ve made great strides expanding the Vodacom network over the past year, adding around 1 000 new 3G base stations and rolling out fibre transmission to base stations and the core network. This significantly increased network capacity positions us to provide our customers with superior data connectivity. However, it is rather pointless to have a great national data network without decent international connectivity and bandwidth, which is why we are so excited about WACS,‚ says Andries Delport, Vodacom Group: Chief Technical Officer.

‚Africa has until now, been a cyclist on the information superhighway. MTN’s investment in WACS will ensure that millions of our subscribers in South Africa and across the continent have the capacity and the ability to optimally utilize the data and telemetry offerings that modern telephony applications provide. We sincerely believe that the commercialization of WACS and other submarine cables will set the stage for a mobile revolution that will enhance the quality of life for millions of people across the continent,‚ added Karel Pienaar, MTN South Africa Managing Director.

‚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 is located at either Melkbosstrand or Mtunzini, thus effectively two international fibre gateways. Events such as Earth quakes or even a large ship dragging its anchor has seen several cables being cut during singular events across the world. South Africa needs a 3rd 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,‚ says Casper K Chihaka, Managing Executive: Telkom Wholesale Services.

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