Across the South Atlantic – and on to the Indian Ocean?
As Angola Cables’ new SACS cable goes into operation, CEO António Nunes tells Alan Burkitt-Gray of his idea for a terrestrial extension across southern Africa
Angola Cables is looking for a terrestrial route across Africa to extend its new Atlantic cable to the Indian Ocean and on to Asia.
The South Atlantic Cable System (SACS) is operational and will go into service from Fortaleza in Brazil to Sangano in Angola in July or August. At Sangano, SACS connects to a number of other subsea cables and to Angola’s own fixed and mobile service providers, which are its shareholders. But no further.
I sat down with Angola Cables CEO António Nunes at International Telecoms Week in Chicago in early May, and he was already thinking about the next step. “We have a border with Zambia, and Zambia has borders with Tanzania and Mozambique,” he says. And both of those countries are on Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, giving access to cables running to the Gulf, to India and beyond.
In Tanzania, cables land at Dar es Salaam; in Mozambique, the only landing is at Maputo in the far south. But a connection from the west coast of Africa to the east coast would provide “a big portion of the traffic” on SACS, he says. It could be a joint venture with an African terrestrial fibre company. “We’ve already started the research, but I’m not sure of the timescale.”
Even before that terrestrial extension is planned and built, the new SACS opens up new routing possibilities for the world’s carriers. “SACS is a completely new route,” says Nunes. “People don’t yet know the route. From Fortaleza you can serve South America in a very efficient way. And from Angola we can reach Nigeria and South Africa. We are in the middle.”
Fortaleza is becoming a vast data junction on the Atlantic coast because of the number of subsea cables already landing there. Before SACS, Monet – in which Angola Cables is a shareholder – was just the latest, calling into Fortaleza on its way from Florida to southern Brazil. There are “15 subsea cables in Fortaleza”, he says. Those other subsea links connect to the east coast of the US – Florida, Virginia and New York/New Jersey.
The place is helping to open up the north of Brazil, which until now has had “relatively poor infrastructure and connectivity”, he says. “We’re building two data centres, one in Angola and one in Brazil.”
At the eastern end, SACS connects to the West Africa Cable System (WACS) and will connect to the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable. Both of those give connections to South Africa and, to the north, Nigeria and Europe. “When SACS is live it will expand the demand from South Africa to the US.”
Both Angola and Nigeria are oil-producing states. “There’s a lot of interaction between Nigeria and Houston,” says Nunes, suggesting potential traffic from the oil industry for WACS from Nigeria to Angola, SACS across the South Atlantic, and then Monet to Florida to connect with Houston. Angola Cables will be a one-stop shop for the WACS-SACS-Monet route, he says.
The normal current alternative runs into London and then across the North Atlantic before heading to Texas. “This offers redundancy for the North Atlantic route,” says Nunes.
At the same time, Angola Cables has joined DE-CIX’s reseller programme, so it can resell peering points and connect its customers to DE-CIX’s hubs in North America and Europe.
“We are proud to become the first Angolan reseller of DE-CIX premium interconnection services, targeting Africa and South America,” said Nunes. “The recent implementation of DE-CIX reseller services highlights our commitment to helping our customers expand into new markets, lessening the digital divide, and improving the internet experience for end-users in main markets of Africa and South America.”
Angola Cables will connect to the DE-CIX locations in New York, Frankfurt, Madrid and Marseille, and the agreement with DE-CIX indicates that the African and South American networks will have an alternative route between Europe and North America.
Angola Cables is already expanding its horizons to Asia, even before Nunes realises his dream of a terrestrial cable across Africa. WACS ends at Cape Town, where there are connections onwards to Asia. “You can now link South America efficiently to Asia, avoiding the US and Europe,” says Nunes. “In terms of network configuration that’s a new type of diversity.”
Nunes and his team have started to market SACS to carriers. “At the beginning not many believed we could do it. The big challenge will start right now.”
SACS is vital to the economic future of Angola, he says, as the economy moves from crude oil to data. “If we don’t have the infrastructure we won’t survive in new markets. We are getting one step forward so when the market is ready the highways are there.”