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New cables tie West Africa closer to Internet
The old cable connecting West Africa to the world, called South Atlantic Telecommunications Cable Number 3/West African Submarine Cable, or SAT-3, is controlled by incumbent telecom operators.
The new $250-million MainOne cable is owned by a consortium of Nigerian banks and financial institutions, South African investors and other African entrepreneurs, none of whom are telecommunications operators. The cable, which has a maximum capacity of 1.92 terabits per second, went live in Ghana and Nigeria last month and has several branching points along the West African coastline ready to connect six other countries.
The other cables in the works are Glo 1, which is owned by Nigerian mobile phone service provider, Globacom Ltd. It will connect Nigeria and its neighbor Ghana with Europe and is expected to go live this year. South Africa-based mobile phone company, MTN Group, is leading another project called West Africa Cable System, which is scheduled to be completed next year. France Telecom is leading another consortium, Africa Coast to Europe, whose cable should be completed mid-2012. And on the eastern Africa coast, it is leading a separate submarine cable project _ LION 2.
Apart from extra capacity, the new cables will bring much-needed reliability to communications in Africa. Undersea cables are prone to being damaged by fishermen and earthquakes and take weeks to repair. When SAT-3 broke last summer, it took several countries completely offline for a while, and Nigeria lost 70 percent of its international capacity as it fell back on satellite connections, which are slower and even more expensive than SAT-3.
With multiple cables, French-speaking Senegal may be able to expand its outsourced call centers, and English-speaking Ghana would have a better chance of implementing its plan to get into that business.
Joseph Mucheru, Google Inc.’s regional lead for sub-Saharan Africa, sees great opportunities for West Africa with improved communications, despite the problem of finding enough skilled workers, the lack of security and other challenges.
“I would, however, say all this is outweighed by the opportunities West Africa presents,” Mucheru said. “A vibrant, youthful population and thirst for growth and great technology adaptation.”
By Tom Fitton
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