See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Africa: The arrival of Seacom cable sparks debate

The arrival of an undersea cable that will increase bandwidth and lower Internet access costs throughout Africa has sparked debate and interest in the African blogoshere. Seacom, which links South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique to Europe and Asia, went live on Thursday, connecting eastern and southern Africa to the global broadband network.

Seacom connects the eastern African coastline to Europe and Asia

Seacom connects the eastern African coastline to Europe and Asia

Johannesburg, Nairobi and Kampala received their connections on Thursday, and Addis Ababa and Kigali are expected to follow. The cable's arrival was originally scheduled for early July, but pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia delayed operations.

The undersea link is expected to lower the cost of bandwidth by up to 90 percent and to increase access to video conferencing, high definition television and high speed Internet along the eastern African coastline.

“Mmmh…Can't wait for the downloads to start,” writes IT Blog Kenya.

In Uganda, Josh from In an African Minute is already noticing the difference:

The widely known technique for watching YouTube videos in Africa is to immediately pause the video when it starts, wait 20 minutes (or much more) until the video fully loads, and then watch. Today I’m at the ceremony launching SEACOM…. In the corner of a conference room, Peter Moreton, a procurement manager for SEACOM, beckoned me over to a display computer with YouTube queued up. We launched Kung Fu baby and for the first time in Africa, I saw a YouTube video load completely and play in 6 seconds.

Munashe at TechMasai is equally thrilled:

Seacom the undersea cable we wrote about a while back is complete and has been commissioned, today. The initiative is revolutionary for the fact that the countries which will make use of it for now, which include Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, South Africa and Uganda.

…It is a beautiful moment for Africa, I can vouch for Kenya who until now depended on satellites for their internet needs.

Jeremy, a Nigerian blogger writing at NaijaBlog, compares Seacom to West Africa's various cable links. West Africa comes up short:

East Africa goes broadband…while West Africa is still in the starting blocks (actually, still in the changing room wondering what to wear) with useless always-cut SAT3, a phantom Glo1 (are Alcatel's contractors stuck under a sand dune?) and the two new entrants, WACS and Main1 still way off beyond the horizon (next year if we're lucky). East Africa has embraced broadband and sprinted off with it while West Africa dithers and looks around.

Twitter is also abuzz with Seacom news. Some users are excited, while others are more skeptical:

“Still absolutely amazed that you can practically download the whole of the Interwebz through one small yellow cable #seacom
ncallegari

“Seacom did launch _for real_ today. Lets see how long it takes for the ISPs to increase speeds and lower costs…”
dnyaga

“is it just me or is the net in Nairobi slower today since #seacom launched? Maybe the bandwidth is enjoying the ocean view before coming up?”
mentalacrobatic

Much of the Seacom skepticism surrounds the issue of pricing: though some analysts claim bandwidth costs will drop by 90 percent, others believe the actual cost cuts may be much smaller. Kachwanya writes:

In the ideal world the cost should go down by more than 90%, currently it cost ISPs US$6500 (around KShs.487500) per MB of bandwidth. According to Seacom they will be charging US$400 (around Kshs.30,000) per MB of bandwidth, but hold your breath, don’t expect miracles on this front. Recently UUnet CEO Tom Omariba claimed that cables will only bring down costs by 20-30 percent.

True Kenyan is concerned about transparency:

Seacom has blatantly refused to disclose to us, the consumers of the internet, which ISP’s have bought the bandwidth from them. Hence we are still on the dark and we do not know where we can buy the cheap and reliable internet from…. So the only alternative i am left with is to continue with my ISP staring at the machine as it loads pages at its own pace wishing that one day our dream will come true.

Commenting on a post by Tanzanian blogger Issa Michuzi [SW], Mdau is also worried about costs, though he has high hopes for the future:

Asanteni sana kwa huo mkonga. Sasa kutandaza fibre-optic cables kwenye miji mbalimbali tunaanza lini? Manake kuwa na inter-country connection wakati within the country hatuna connection nzuri bado gharama zitakuwa juu na kwa maoni yangu tutakuwa tuna-under utilise capacity ya hiyo under sea cable. For the moment, well done! For the future, we have to work had!

Thanks for the cable. But when are going to roll it out in various parts of the country. I mean if we have good inter-country connection while we do not have good connection within the country – still the cost will remain high and in my opinion we will be under utilising the capacity of the under sea cable. For the moment, well done! For the future, we have to work hard!

For Jellyfish, who dismisses pricing concerns by noting that such an increase in speed and quality of service would normally be accompanied by a price hike, the arrival of Seacom is a beautiful event:

In a highly publicized and coordinated event SEACOM turned on the switch which instantenously beamed Terabytes of bandwidth at the speed of light through highly polished and engineered strands of glass.

And for South African Aki Anastasiou, “This is one small MB for my laptop, one giant TB for Africa.”

23 comments

  • Amazing it took so long for this to happen.

  • That’s really interesting that SEACOM isn’t making available data about which ISP’s it serves. I can imagine someone creating a Firefox plugin which measures bandwidth speed and reports connection rates based on location and ISP in East Africa. (Similar to the thinking behind Herdict.)

  • “Better Late Than Never.” Cheerful news indeed for our neighbours in beloved Africa. I hope this will decrease the cost of connection as this makes more people to subscribe into higher bands, which means more flow of information.

  • […] topped African tech news and sparked a great deal of controversy online. Rebekah Heacock collects reactions from the blogosphere over at Global Voices Online. Whiteafrican does a comprehensive roundup of the debate surrounding […]

  • Plenty of issues to resolve before high speeds are actually realised – certainly here in Uganda anyway. The launch was impressive but scratch the surface and it’s a mess.

  • the launch is readily welcome, but there is already talk by some of the service providers that costs for connectivity may only drop by 20% and over a period of time, this is what readily discourages us in Africa. I have a post on it at :http://siku-moja.blogspot.com/2009/07/seacom-under-sea-fibre-optic-cable.html

  • E-Nyce

    The great thing about this era, when (at least eastern and southern) Africa finally joins the *20th* Century in terms of Internet access, is that we have a community of Internet and tech enthusiasts to monitor and document said era.

    We WILL be closely watching how long it takes for the prices to drop to realistic levels, how long it takes for common wananchi to actually see the speed benefits, how much bickering occurs as inland countries have to kowtow for access to the ocean cable links, and how much corporate foot-dragging will occur to stimy user access in order to maintain their revenue margins (e.g. thru per-megabyte pricing).

    It’s a new day, but sadly business will be the same as usual.

  • to clarify, the speeds i saw at the launch were mind-blowing, but they were direct wi-max link to the Infocom (SEACOM’s partner in Uganda) cable, and aren’t going to be available to consumers for at least a month i imagine

  • Eng A. B. Kowero

    This is new chapter in the sector with private sector removing the missing gap in eastern africa on the international link this is first big step…we look forward to take advantage of this step in our countries…

    Eng A. B. Kowero

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site