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.