Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Landlocked African countries pin their hopes on EASSy cable

By MICHAEL OUMA - The East African - Monday, November 2 2009

The 10,800 kilometre long East African Submarine System (EASSy), to be complete in March before going live in June 2010, is set to provide fibre optic Internet connectivity to most of the landlocked countries in the continent, unlike its competitors who serve coastline countries.

The cable, to cost $263 million, is to provide connectivity to, among other landlocked African countries, Botswana, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, DRC, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho.

Most of the nine landlocked countries have contributed to EASSy through the West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC) consortium, formed by 12 telecoms operators from the continent to pool financial resources for EASSy’s implementation.

WIOCC, with a 30 per cent shareholding in EASSy, comprises Botswana’s Telecommunications Corporation, Burundi’s U-Com, Djibouti Telecom, Kenya’s Telkom Orange, Lesotho’s Telecommunications Authority, TDM of Mozambique, Nigeria’s Gilat Satcom, the Seychelles government as well as Somalia Dalkom.

Its other members are Zanzibar Telecom of Tanzania and Uganda Telecom with the World Bank and International Finance Corporation providing a grant to finance implementation.

According to WIOCC chief commercial officer James Wekesa, EASSy ensures expertise and stability as it is a public–private partnership, adding that “EASSy’s developmental objectives are the delivery of open access, competition, non-discriminatory low-cost bandwidth pricing.”

“Carrier involvement in EASSy guarantees the financial success of the cable, as customers and traffic are guaranteed as they are players in the business,” he said.

International bandwidth prices are set to fall next year as WIOCC capacity becomes available when EASSy lands on the East African coast.

Multiple systems will bring much needed network diversity and resilience and greater competition,” said Mr Wekesa.

The cable runs from Mtunzini in South Africa to Port Sudan in Sudan, with landing stations in Maputo (Mozambique), Toliary (Madagascar), Moroni (Comoros), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Mombasa (Kenya) and Djibouti.

Nine landing points means EASSy has the highest number of stations for any of the three cables in the region,” said Mr Wekesa, adding that the cable’s “collapsed ring” ensures that traffic is rerouted to alternative routes whenever and wherever there is a disconnection in the cable due to cuts or equipment failure.

Unlike Teams and Seacom, EASSy intends to differentiate itself by offering relatively more flexible terms and pricing to its clients.

“While Seacom has set a minimum volume of bandwidth that can be bought, EASSy has flexible contracts according to one’s bandwidth capacity needs ranging from one month up to 10 years, which can be serviced through monthly or yearly payments, with a one-off installation fee,” said Mr Wekesa.

He adds that bandwidth price on EASSy is to be “set at about one-third of the rates currently charged by other service providers,” adding that “Seacom might even have to buy bulk bandwidth from EASSy then sell to its clients.”

EASSy, which has 92 per cent of its shareholding being held by African telecoms operators, has had to grapple with competing interests of its various shareholders, leading to delays in implementation.

One of the concerns that have lead to delays in EASSy implementation was that South Africa wanted to own a substantial part of the cable, a position that caused disquiet among the other members of the WIOCC consortium.