Arthur Goldstuck
Arthur Goldstuck

EASSy cable lands but not all plain sailing for Telkom

EASSy, the second of nine new undersea telecommunications cables to connect sub-Saharan Africa to the rest of the world by 2011, will make landfall in South Africa tomorrow. But there may well be some unintended consequences.

Telkom announced today that the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) would land at Mtunzini — the landing site of Seacom, the first new cable — on the northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline.

However, it also admitted that the cable would only be ready for operations in August 2010 — too late to make a contribution to World Cup 2010 broadcast needs. Once it is in operation, however, its capacity will exceed that of the Seacom cable.

Telkom is the South African landing partner for EASSy. In all, there are nine EASSy landing stations in Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Comoros, Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa, with shore-end landings already having occurred in Mozambique and Sudan.

“EASSy is one of the elements of Telkom’s cable investment strategy and is a key step towards the process of establishing a Telkom fibre-ring capability around Africa,” said Alphonzo Samuels, Telkom’s managing executive for wholesale services.

He added: “EASSy further increases the robustness of Telkom’s international bandwidth offerings and portfolio. Together with other undersea cables and/or land-based fibre routes, EASSy creates redundant fibre access prospects into East Africa.”

World Wide Worx research has shown that the real significance of the EASSy cable is that:
* It reduces reliance on the existing Telkom-managed SAT3/SAFE cable, which has had several recent outages on the west coast of Africa;
* It provides the first opportunity for clients of the Seacom cable to achieve redundancy along the east coast of Africa;
* It may over time drive Seacom access prices further down, which will in turn bring down the costs on the other cables;
* It provides real competition for internet access services for all countries on the east coast of Africa;
* Increasing connectivity between various cable systems means lower latency — the time it takes for data to pass through a network and for information to return; and
* Increasing connectivity means greater opportunities for online collaboration between companies operating across Africa.

An unintended consequence is that it may spur a new wave of demand for Telkom to bring down the access cost of internet usage in South Africa. Though it has reduced the cost of data capacity — or at least provided substantially more data for the same price — it has not brought down the cost of subscribing to an internet-capable line for more than two years. It is this access cost, rather than the data charge, that represents one of the greatest obstacles to internet growth in South Africa.

Another consequence is that Telkom’s history as a monopoly provider of an essential service may come back to haunt it. It already has management control over the SAT3/SAFE cable, which has connected South Africa to the world for much of the past decade. Now it has control over the South African landing point of the EASSy cable. Fair enough, since it made the investment that brought the cable to South Africa. However, that gives it management over two of the three cables that will now link South Africa to the world. Any hint of abusing this control to maintain pricing artificially, or to squeeze out competitors, will bring the watchdogs of monopoly behaviour down on their necks.

EASSy is a 10 000km undersea cable system running along the east African coastline. Its 1.4 Tbps system design capacity, coupled with its two fibre-pair configuration, equips EASSy with the highest capacity of all undersea cable systems along the east coast of Africa. The Seacom cable has a capacity of 1.2Tbps.

Today’s Telkom statement explains how they see the roll-out:

Interconnection with various other undersea international cable systems will enable traffic on EASSy to seamlessly connect to Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia, thereby enhancing the east coast of Africa’s connectivity into the global telecommunications network.

“EASSy is routed from South Africa to Sudan, linking the coastal countries of East Africa. An extensive backhaul system linking landlocked countries to the coastal countries has been developed and is at various stages of completion,” stated Samuels, adding that EASSy is scheduled to be ready for commercial service from August this year.

Samuels explained that submarine cables held many benefits such as superior transmission quality, considerably lesser delays compared to satellite, high transmission capacity, access to the global optical fibre network, lower unit costs (compared to satellite), no electromagnetic interference and higher resistance against adverse weather conditions.

“However, activities such as fishing and anchoring, ocean drilling, fish bites and earthquakes constituted some of the commonly known submarine cable hazards,” cautioned Samuels.

Various initiatives were nevertheless undertaken to protect submarine cables. These included conducting ocean bed surveys to select the safest undersea routes; burying cable in sand where possible, especially at the shallow end; avoiding heavy shipping lanes when approaching landing points; selecting safe beaches, bearing in mind that later beach erosion could expose cables; designing the shortest land cable route for maximum security and manufacturing cables to exceed the 25-year design life of the cable system.

“Redundancy, protection and — where necessary — restoration are also key considerations,” said Samuels.

He explained: “Redundancy means that we have duplicated equipment at the cable stations, duplicated power converters, generators etc. Therefore, if a single piece of equipment should fail, we have another piece of equipment standing by to take its place.”

Protection ensures that a fully duplicated amount of capacity is available to re-route traffic on the same cable in the event of an internal failure impacting only one path or fibre. Protection therefore implies that for everything that is duplicated, automated switching takes place.

Samuels added that restoration required traffic to be routed onto other cable systems via completely different traffic paths and even different routes. “This usually happens when a complete failure of a cable system occurs, usually via an external influence such as a ship’s anchor breaking a cable, to the extent that ‘in-system’ protection on the same system is not possible.”

He also explained that customers have a choice between the regular international private lease circuits that includes restoration for their bandwidth or a product that excludes restoration, which would be termed non-restorable bandwidth or traffic.

“It must be emphasised, though, that in the event of submarine cable service interruptions, every attempt is always made to expedite customer services,” emphasised Samuels.

Although EASSy will not be commercially active by the time this year’s 2010 Fifa World Cup™ kicks off in June, Samuels stated that “Telkom’s undersea capacity has been significantly upgraded”. “For example, by end-October last year, SAT3 and SAFE were upgraded to at least three times their former capacity.”

He added that SAT3 provided the shortest route to Europe while SAFE was the shortest link to Asia. “From an undersea capacity perspective, therefore, it’s all systems go for the World Cup,” emphasised Samuels.

As its investment in EASSy highlighted, Samuels said that Telkom had a robust strategy with regard to undersea cable investments. The Company’s cable investments included COLUMBUS3, SEA-ME-WE3 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe), SAT3/WASC/SAFE (South Atlantic Telecommunications / West Africa Submarine Cable /South Africa Far East), EASSy, EIG (Europe India Gateway) and WACS (West Africa Cable System).

“Our investments are geared by the participation of other operators and we firmly believe that investment sharing translates to better unit costs and improved customer prices,” he added.

“Ultimately, we believe that EASSy will also go a long way towards increasing Africa’s bandwidth capacity, affordability and create increased diversity and fibre redundancy between SA and Europe as well as within East Africa,” said Samuels.

  • Robin Grant

    And on the same day Google releases news about the network it plans to roll out in USA and the UK. 1Gbs connections to households.
    I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry about EASSy.

  • steve

    Telkom is throwing good money after bad. The investment should have been made in upgrading the last mile rather than the first. There is no point in landing cables on SA’s shores when data is then fed on via a sub-standard, slow copper network and, worse, via notoriously unreliable wireless.

  • http://kwekwere.blogspot.com mundundu

    robin: i cried. aloud. my tenant thought a relative in the us had died or something.

    also:

    Any hint of abusing this control to maintain pricing artificially, or to squeeze out competitors, will bring the watchdogs of monopoly behaviour down on their necks.

    we’ve been led down this route before with the mobile phone networks…. and have gotten exactly nowhere in dealing with the ridiculous mobile phone charges. why should we have hope that our innertubes will suddenly be cheaper?

    here’s something: if i were paying current senegalese prices for internet to sustain my internet-based business, i would not have had to sell my house, as it would have been easier for me to make my mortgage payments.

    http://www.orange.sn/djoumtouwayyatu,3,10,ay,bf6e70820af065c

    if you can’t read french, let me summarise the important bits:

    10MB down/512KB up
    10 email accounts
    USB modem [the national power grid is dodgy] but ethernet modem also available.

    startup cost: 75,000 CFA [R1200]
    monthly costs: 53,600 CFA [R857]

    for 1MB down/256KB up [which i could also live with, to be honest], the monthly cost is half that. R430 there versus R1500 i am paying here for my package and usage.

    i bring this up everytime the c**ks at telkom say “this is africa” when i bring up their kak prices. i moved here from senegal, so i tell them to f**k right off.

  • George Gildenhuys

    folks, you can’t compare South Africa to Europe. Geography is against cheap fast international cables not to mention the risk that South Africa is a relatively poor country with low internet saturation, hence a massive risk that return on investment might not be met.

    That does not excuse Telkom’s inability to provide cheaper domestic bandwidth.

  • JvM

    Every time a Telkom guy rings to ask permission to climb up the sagging pole in our garden to fix breakages in the phone wires leading to our neighbours I’m left wondering how they’ll ever competently bring high-speed internet to SA households.

  • Alan in Botswana

    Is there a pictoral representation of all the different cables available on-line? Landlocked Botswana has spent a good deal of time and money putting a fiber optic infrastructure in place, but as yet we have not connected to any of these undersea cables.

  • http://blogroid.wordpress.com blogroid

    I think you are overly optimistic about the probability that the “watchdogs of monopoly behaviour’ will come down on anyone’s heads.

  • Andrew

    Steve – you are absolutely spot on – I live with max 384 on a good day delivered through very old twin copper wires – when its windy/rainy/too hot/too cold the connection goes, of course. Both my sons in the UK have 10Gb totally reliable connects, in with their SKY TV deal. Jealous or what!!

  • MLH

    JvM: He rings first? How very civilised; not at our end of the world. Here, Telkom is the God that decides our fate. As with Eskom!

    Over the last four months my usual Gbs have risen from a monthly 1-2, to sometimes 8 or 9 and I still can’t work out who’s using them!

  • Lisa

    Map with current and future undersea cables:
    http://manypossibilities.net/african-undersea-cables/