Kenya unprepared for fibre optic cables, says Ndemo

As the country awaits the landing of the fibre optic cables, fears have emerged that the country might not be ready to tap into the opportunities presented by the high speed and cheaper Internet. 

“In my view, we are not fully prepared for the fibre optics yet. Whereas the telecommunication sector may optimally utilise these investments through voice and data, we have not scratched the surface yet on video.

The switch from analog to digital broadcasting will result in more video content being uploaded,” said Dr Bitange Ndemo , Information and Communications Permanent Secretary.

Dr Ndemo, who challenged a recent World Bank report that advised Kenya to stop further investments in the ICT sector, told Business Daily that his greatest fear lies in the fact that the western world may take advantage of the infrastructure and push aside local investors. 

“We need local content.  We need to link universities, colleges and schools for online e-learning and other applications”, Dr Ndemo said.

“We have been talking about the landing of the cable as if it is the last thing we need to get to the promised land. Fibre is only part of ICT infrastructure. Infrastructure is a very little component of any solution,” said Timothy Waema, associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Computing and Informatics.

However, Waema acknowledged that the Government has been implementing the national fibre optic backbone network to make sure that the under-sea cable bandwidth can be accessed throughout the country. He also said universities, through the Kenya Educational Network have had a project to prepare for the cable bandwidth.

Ms Hital Muraj, Cisco Networking Academy manager in charge of East Africa said while the country appears to be ready in other aspects, it still faces infrastructure challenges.

“We are ready but we still have issues of power blackouts and lack of electricity in some areas to grapple with”. She cited cases where students doing exams online have had to suspend them following power outages or slow Internet connectivity.

Still, the benefits of the fibre-optic cables cannot be gainsaid. According to Waema, the cost of bandwidth will come down by at least six times.

This will increase affordability and enable more people to access the Internet, especially schools, SMEs and low income groups and individuals. It is also hoped that many companies will establish off-shore businesses to handle outsourced work.

The East African Marines Systems (TEAMS) and SEACOM cables are expected to land in Mombasa in June followed by the Lion cable linking Mauritius, Kenya and Madagascar.