Seacom link promises new telecoms era


A fibre optic cable. Seacom fibre optic cable link goes live today

Kenya’s second international fibre optic cable link goes live today (Thursday), heralding the start of a new era in the telecommunications sector.

Telecoms firms that have bought capacity on Seacom are already able to access connectivity, meaning that end-users expect to enjoy lower Internet and calling rates as soon as their respective providers are ready to offer them.

“Testing is complete, meaning Seacom broadband capacity is now available at the relevant countries POPs (points of presence) and can be accessed by our customers.

They will in turn resell the capacity to customers such as Internet service providers, local loop operators, cable operators, and so on,” said Kevin Kariuki, who is a director of the project as well as the head of infrastructure at Industrial Promotion Services (IPS), Seacom’s largest shareholder.

Seacom is a $650 million privately funded fibre optic project that promises increased access to communication services for Kenyan companies as well as providing a new gateway for international firms who are keen to tap into the under served African markets.

The cable is the first in the country to start commercial operations, with Dr Karuiki saying some Kenyan end-users were already accessing the cheaper broadband offered by the cable.

Early this week, Safaricom, who has leased 4 STMi of Seacom’s capacity, said it expected to end tests on its network in four weeks time and then pass on the connectivity to consumers. The last year has seen a flurry of activity within the local telecoms sector as players attempted to position themselves ahead of the arrival of two international fibre links.

The country’s other fibre optic link is TEAMs (the East African Marine System), which is a public-private partnership between the Kenyan government and local firms.

TEAMs hit the Kenyan coastline in early June, and services are still being tested on the system. It is anticipated it will start offering commercial services in the next 10 weeks.

The biggest benefit to consumers on the arrival of fibre optic links is the availability of cheaper communications solutions.

Fibre is a cheaper mode of transport for data than satellites, which were the country’s main means of gaining access to telephone and Internet services.
Using satellite can drive up the cost of communicating by as high as 10 times, say industry players.

Kai Wulff, managing director of Kenya Data Networks, which has bought capacity on both TEAMs and Seacom, said he hoped to see a reduction in pricing of at least 75 per cent once the cables were activated.

Fibre optic cables are also expected to allow consumer access to new services such as high definition TV, video conferencing, IPTV, and high speed Internet.

Analysts anticipate the arrival of the link will provide unprecedented access to foreign companies eyeing a share of Kenya’s Internet market, which is pegged to double in size from the current three million users as a result of the cable landing.

“With Seacom also landing in countries like Kenya and Mozambique, which are key business areas for us on the continent, the investment will also benefit African business substantially,” said Hillel Shrock, Business Solutions Director at Internet Solutions South Africa.

Seacom links much of sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya who will be inter-connected.

Seacom is 76.25 per cent African owned by Industrial Promotion Services (26.25 per cent), an arm of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, Venfin Limited (25 per cent), Convergence Partners (12.5 per cent) and the Shanduka Group (12.5 per cent). The remaining 23.75 per cent is held by Amercain firm Herakles Telecom.