Sub-saharan Undersea Cables in 2011 - maybe (version 13) It’s looks as though the West African Cable System (WACS) has passed from the realm of the press release into something more concrete.  A consortium of telcos signed a construction and maintenance agreement yesterday (8 April 2009) in Johannesburg.

The signatories to the cable agreement are:

  • Telkom
  • Vodacom
  • MTN
  • Tata Communications (Neotel)
  • Broadband Infraco
  • Cable & Wireless
  • Portugal Telecoms
  • Telecom Namibia
  • Togo Telecom
  • Angola Telecom
  • Sotelco (U.S.)

The will cable stretch from South Africa to London connecting Namibia, Angola, the Congo, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Canary Islands, Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cape Verde, and Portugal along the way.

One look at the African Undersea Cable Map and you can see that this initiative dwarfs all others.  However, it will be interesting to see how the economics of this cable play out as it will only be lit in Q2 2011, two full years after Seacom has been in services and a year after EASSy has been lit as well as MainOne and/or GLO1 possibly.  It looks as though 2011 may be as big a shake up in international bandwidth pricing in South Africa as 2009 promises to be.

It will be interesting to see whether this Telco-dominated consortium will have woken up by then to the reality that uptake and not ARPU is the road to cost recovery.  As a back of the napkin analysis, here’s what you get when you divide the total cable cost by the distance covered and the total capacity, giving a cost per gigabyte per second per kilometre.

WACS11 USD
EASSY19 USD
TEAMS22 USD
GLO124 USD
MainOne32 USD
Seacom37 USD

That would appear to give WACS an edge in the long term, as long as they fill the cable!  Of course the above figures are so rough as to possible make the calculation worthless.  For instance, Seacom offers connectivity direct to London whereas TEAMs customers will have to negotiate onward connectivity from Fujairah to Europe.  It is hard to compare eggs with eggs in undersea cables so take the above with the appropriate grain of salt.

The formalisation of WACS is unlikely to be good news for cables that still have yet to nail down all of their financing.  For MainOne and GLO1 it will now be a race to get their cables in the water and lit to generate as much revenue as possible before WACS goes live.  Also, it is interesting to speculate to what extent all this undersea access will affect the O3B satellite network.  If I were the betting type, my money would not be on O3B today.  Looking forward, however, to being proved wrong 🙂

The latest version of the African Undersea Cables Map can always be found at http://manypossibilities.net/african-undersea-cables/

Posted by Steve Song

@stevesong local telco policy activist. social entrepreneur. founder of @villagetelco #africa #telecoms #opensource #privacy #wireless #spectrum #data