Africa-Europe underwater cable: West Africa to get high speed internet

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France Telecom and a consortium of 20 members of the telecommunications industry, Saturday, signed an agreement to build an underwater cable between Europe and South Africa. The fiber optic cable is expected to provide broadband internet access to 19 African countries by 2012.

West Africa will be plugged into a 17 000 km fiber optic cable that is to link 23 countries from France to South Africa in 2012. Though the construction approval has been signed and the cable built, “deep-sea exploration for implantation in (both) unprotected and authorized zones will take a year and a half,” says Didier Duriez, Director of International and Backbone Network, with France Telecom-Orange. “The cable laying will last one year after which it will be connected to the already existing cable system,” he adds.

The ACE system (Africa Coast to Europe) will be the first under-water cable to serve 23 African and European countries. Gambia, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe and Sierra Leone are among the first to be connected to this under-water cable. Other countries include South Africa, Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Spain, France, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Portugal, Senegal. Landlocked Mali and Niger will be connected via a terrestrial cable.

Didier Duriez admits that although this might “not directly change the lives of low income earners”, African operators will be able to offer their services at a “lower cost.”

Lower prices expected

The $700 million (587 million euros) investment, out of which France Telecom-Orange is to shoulder 250 million, will eventually see the lowering of broadband access rates. “The cost depends mainly on domestic connectivity. The international segment accounts for only 20-25%. In this area, however, prices will certainly be lowered: the lowering of the unit cost will eventually be set at 50% in the least,” said Didier Duriez.

Equatorial Guinea is the only country where the state itself took part in the investment program. Funding in the other countries is indirect as most governments own substantial shares in telecommunications companies.

While the cable could see a throughput of up to 5 terabytes, “the quality will depend on the country’s infrastructure” says Didier Duriez. And for the cable to function at its best, wireless infrastructure must be developed.

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