The State Of Submarine Cable Connectivity In Sub-Saharan Africa

Prior to the launch of the SEACOM undersea cable in 2009, which connects Southern and East Africa to India and Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was dependent on the 340Gbps SAT-3 cable system for international bandwidth. With a monopoly over the delivery of international bandwidth, the incumbent operators that own the cable charged rates ranging from US$5250-15,000 per mbps per month, allegedly nearly 50 times the cost of bandwidth in the US at the time. Meanwhile, the existence of only a single submarine cable connection left the continent vulnerable to any service interruption. In July 2009, damage to the SAT-3 cable caused a week-long internet blackout in several West African countries, including Benin, Togo, Niger, and Nigeria suffered a 70% loss of bandwidth, which caused significant problems for its government and the banking and telecoms sectors.

Since 2009, seven new submarine cables have come online, bringing the total capacity on the continent to 25.7Tbps. The heavy investment in undersea cable systems over between 2009 and 2012 brought the cost of bandwidth down by approximately 90% and fuelled commercial uptake of fixed and mobile broadband services on the continent. While international telecoms companies have made considerable investments in the seven undersea cables; TEAMS, SEACOM, Main One, EASSy, GLO-1, WACS and ACE, they have been predominantly pioneered by African telecoms companies, including MTN Group, SEACOM, Main One, Globacom and Telkom South Africa.

Looking at future investments in undersea cables, there is a distinct shift of focus from connecting Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe to increasing connectivity with other developing regions and within the continent itself. Of the planned or proposed cables, three increase connectivity within South Africa and two connect South Africa to Russia, China and India and/or Brazil. BMI perceives this as a natural development, as Sub-Saharan Africa now has ample access to international bandwidth to meet demand and direct connectivity between BRICS countries will eliminate the need to route traffic via Europe or the US.

The State Of Submarine Cable Connectivity In Sub-Saharan Africa

Prior to the launch of the SEACOM undersea cable in 2009, which connects Southern and East Africa to India and Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was dependent on the 340Gbps SAT-3 cable system for international bandwidth. With a monopoly over the delivery of international bandwidth, the incumbent operators that own the cable charged rates ranging from US$5250-15,000 per mbps per month, allegedly nearly 50 times the cost of bandwidth in the US at the time. Meanwhile, the existence of only a single submarine cable connection left the continent vulnerable to any service interruption. In July 2009, damage to the SAT-3 cable caused a week-long internet blackout in several West African countries, including Benin, Togo, Niger, and Nigeria suffered a 70% loss of bandwidth, which caused significant problems for its government and the banking and telecoms sectors.

Since 2009, seven new submarine cables have come online, bringing the total capacity on the continent to 25.7Tbps. The heavy investment in undersea cable systems over between 2009 and 2012 brought the cost of bandwidth down by approximately 90% and fuelled commercial uptake of fixed and mobile broadband services on the continent. While international telecoms companies have made considerable investments in the seven undersea cables; TEAMS, SEACOM, Main One, EASSy, GLO-1, WACS and ACE, they have been predominantly pioneered by African telecoms companies, including MTN Group, SEACOM, Main One, Globacom and Telkom South Africa.

Looking at future investments in undersea cables, there is a distinct shift of focus from connecting Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe to increasing connectivity with other developing regions and within the continent itself. Of the planned or proposed cables, three increase connectivity within South Africa and two connect South Africa to Russia, China and India and/or Brazil. BMI perceives this as a natural development, as Sub-Saharan Africa now has ample access to international bandwidth to meet demand and direct connectivity between BRICS countries will eliminate the need to route traffic via Europe or the US.

Having overcome the initial obstacle to widespread access to broadband in Sub-Saharan Africa, governments and telecoms operators are now faced with a new set of challenges as they extend broadband access beyond landing stations and capital cities to smaller urban areas, rural areas and landlocked countries. Although governments and telecoms operators have already started investing in terrestrial fibre and advanced mobile broadband networks, quicker roll out of advanced networks has been limited by risks relating to right of way, taxation, vandalism, the high cost of network roll outs, policy continuity and spectrum allocation. BMI believes countries with governments that play a more active role in creating clear regulation and policies for the telecoms industry will be more successful in attracting the investment necessary to bring about more widespread access to and uptake of broadband services.

SSA Submarine Cable Systems
SAT-3
Ownership Telkom South Africa, France Télécom, Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), TCI a subsidiary of AT&T and Tata Communications (previously called VSNL)
Launch Date 2001
Length 15,000km
Capacity 340Gbps
Landing Stations Portugal, Canary Islands, Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Angola and South Africa
The East Africa Marine System (TEAMS)
Ownership Etisalat, Broadband Access Limited, Essar Telecommunications Kenya, Jamii Telecom, Kenya Data Networks, Safaricom, Telkom Kenya, Wananchi Telecom, Bandwidth and Cloud Services Group, Government of Kenya
Launch Date June 2009
Length 4,500km
Capacity 1.28Tbps (+ 40G cohorent transport technology, upgradable to 100G)
Landing Stations Kenya (Mombasa), United Arab Emirates (Fujairah)
SEACOM
Ownership SEACOM
Launch Date July 2009
Length 17,000km
Capacity 1.68Tbps (+ 40G coherent transport technology, upgradable to 100G)
Landing Stations South Africa (Mtunzini), Mozambique (Maputo), Tanzania (Dar es Salaam), Kenya (Mombasa), Djibouti, India (Mumbai), France (Marseilles)
Main One
Ownership Main One
Launch Date July 2010
Length 7,000km
Capacity 4.96Tbps
Landing Stations Nigeria, Ghana and Portugal
Planned Extensions Cameroon, Gabon, DRC, South Africa
Potential Extensions Morocco, Canary Islands, Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire
Eastern Africa Submarine System (EASSy)
Ownership WIOCC, MTN Group, Sudatel, Vodacom, Telkom South Africa, Telma (Madagascar), Neotel, Botswana Telecom, France Télécom-Orange, Mauritius Telecom, British Telecom (BT), Etisalat, Zambia Telecom, Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC), Comores Telecom, Bharti Airtel and Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL)
Launch Date July 2010
Length 10,500km
Capacity 4.72Tbps
Landing Stations South Africa (Mtunzini), Mozambique (Maputo), Madagascar (Toliary), Comores (Moroni), Tanzania (Dar es Salaam), Kenya (Mombasa), Somalia (Mogadishu), Djibouti and Sudan (Port Sudan)
GLO-1
Ownership Globacom
Launch Date October 2011
Length 9,800km
Capacity 2.5Tbps
Live Connections Nigeria, Ghana (April 2011), Portugal, Spain, UK
Other Landing Stations Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco
West Africa Cable System (WACS)
Ownership MTN Group, Vodacom, Telkom South Africa, Telecom Namibia, Neotel (owned by Tata Communications), Portugal Telecom, Office Congolais des Postes et Télécommunications, Congo Telecom, Cable & Wireless Worldwide, Broadband Infraco and Angola Cables
Launch Date May 2012
Length 16,000km
Capacity 5.12Tbps
Landing Stations South Africa, Namibia, Angola, DRC, Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, NIgeria, Togo, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Cape Verde Islands, Canary Islands, Portugal and London
Africa Coast to Europe (ACE)
Ownership Cable Consortium of Liberia Inc, Côte d'Ivoire Telecom, Expresso Telecom Group, France Télécom, Gambia Submarine Cable Company, Guinéenne de la Large Bande, International Mauritania Telecom, Orange Cameroun, Orange Mali, Orange Niger, PT Comunicações, Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Gabon, Sierra Leone Cable Company, Sonatel and STP Cabo
Launch Date December 2012
Length 17,000km
Capacity 5.12Tbps
Landing Stations France, Portugal, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon
Planned Extensions Nigeria (Q413), Benin, Cameroon, DRC, Angola, Namibia and South Africa
Source: BMI
SSA Planned/Proposed Submarine Cable Systems
South Africa Marine System (SAMS)
Ownership SEACOM
Planned Launch Date Q413
Length 2,500km
Capacity na
Landing Stations Mtunzini, East London, Port Elizabeth, Yzerfontein
BRICS Cable
Ownership Consortium model, but investors still unconfirmed
Planned Launch Date 2015
Length 34,000km
Capacity 12.8Tbps
Landing Stations Russia (Vladivostok), China, Singapore, India, Mauritius, South Africa (Yzerfontein), Brazil, US (Jacksonville)
TTD Cable
Ownership TechTeleData
Planned Launch Date 2015
Length 2,500km
Capacity 16Tbps
Landing Stations South Africa (Mtunzini, East London, Port Elizabeth, Yzerfontein)
South Atlantic Express Submarine Cable (SAEx)
Ownership eFive
Planned Launch Date na
Length 9,900km
Capacity 2 fibre-pairs with 8Tbps capacity each
Landing Stations South Africa (Mtunzini, East London, Port Elizabeth, Yzerfontein), St Helena, Brazil (Fortaleza)
Proposed Landing Station Angola (Cacuaco)
Source: BMI
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