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