Eassy and Main One extend Africa’s international reach

Two major African submarine cable systems have opened for business – Eassy on the continent’s east coast and Main One to the west – adding hugely to the region’s international capacity.

The long-awaited Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (Eassy) finally launched in July following a protracted development process.

Eassy, which cost $263 million, is operated by the WIOCC consortium, made up of 16 telecoms operators including Bharti Airtel, BT, Etisalat, Saudi Telecom, MTN and Telkom. At around 10,000km, it is Africa’s largest subsea system, with a potential capacity of 1.4Tbps.

Eassy lands in Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, the Comoros Islands, Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa, and when completed will offer Africa’s first direct connectivity with Europe. Eassy joins existing cables Teams and Seacom in linking up Africa’s east coast, providing much needed redundancy as well as additional capacity.

“Eassy will facilitate the proliferation of ICT services, thereby ensuring macro economic development of the east Africa region,” said Ajay Chitkara, CEO of Bharti Airtel’s global data business.

West Africa now also has additional subsea capacity in the form of the 1.92Tb Main One cable. Backed by the Africa Finance Corporation, the African Development Bank and a group of Nigerian investors, Main One extends 7,000km from Portugal to Nigeria and Ghana, branching out to Morocco, the Canary Islands, Senegal and the Ivory Coast.

The UAE’s Etisalat, South African operator MTN and Nigeria’s Starcomms have already signed up for broadband services from the cable. Main One CEO Funke Opeke says it offers more than 10 times the capacity of what was previously west Africa’s only international cable, Sat-3.

Further African cables are also in the pipeline.Glo-1, an $800 million system planned to connect the UK to Nigeria, is expected to go live later this year, financed by Nigerian telco Globacom. Cable & Wireless, MTN and Vodacom are three of the backers for the $600 million West Africa Cable System (WACS) that will stretch from South Africa to the UK when it is lit in 2011. France Telecom is the biggest company in the consortium behind the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable, set to link Liberia, Mauritania and Sierra Leone.

Analysts have warned that the flood of additional bandwidth offered by all these launches could reduce wholesale capacity pricing in Africa by as much as 90%. On the upside, Africa’s poor broadband penetration, currently a mere 3.2% according to analyst firm Yankee Group, is likely to improve sharply. Analyst firm Pyramid Research estimates that penetration could rise to 6.8% by 2015.