South Atlantic cable ready for service, as Angola Cables set to open up new routes

24 May 2018 | Alan Burkitt-Gray


The new SACS cable from Angola to Brazil will be in service within weeks, António Nunes tells Alan Burkitt-Gray. But it’s more than just A to B: it will open up new routes between Asia and Africa to North and South America

Antonia Nunes 680 width

The new subsea cable from Angola to Brazil is live and is due to go into operation in the next few weeks – and the CEO believes it will open up new routes from as far away as Asia and the US.

But the first challenge is commercialising the new South Atlantic Cable System (SACS), says António Nunes, the CEO of Angola Cables.

It runs from Sangano in Angola to Fortaleza in Brazil, a place that is becoming a vast data junction on the Atlantic coast because of the number of subsea cables already landing there. Monet – in which Angola Cables is a shareholder – is just the latest, calling into Fortaleza on its way from Florida to southern Brazil.

“Now Monet is operational and SACS is waiting for a data centre to be finalised. It will be operational in July or August,” says Nunes. “The cable is already live. We’ve tested the cable, from Angola to Brazil and back. The next step, the challenge, is commercialising it.”

But SACS offers more than simply connectivity between Angola and Brazil, two Portuguese-speaking nations.

“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.”

Look at a map and you’ll see what he means. At the western end – via Monet and half a dozen other cables – Fortaleza is not just connected to terrestrial networks in northern Brazil, but also via subsea links to the east coast of the US – Florida, Virginia and New York/New Jersey.

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.”

Intriguingly, both Angola and Nigeria are oil-producing states. “There’s a lot of interaction between Nigeria and Houston,” says Nunes, suggesting lots of potential 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 notes.

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.

But Nunes is looking beyond the oil fields of Nigeria. Cape Town, at the southern tip of WACS, is connected to Asia and there are other cables to Asia from the east coast of South Africa.

“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.”

It’s more complex than even he expected, he hints, pointing at protectionism by some countries of their carriers. “We have a nice IP transit configuration but it is tough to come into some countries. A lot of countries are very protective.”

But even before conquering those challenges he’s looking for more. Look again at the Angolan end of the cable: it is connected to other subsea cables that land there, but inland just to Angola’s fixed and mobile telecoms operators – which are its shareholders.

Wouldn’t it be handy, thought Nunes, if there were a terrestrial link across southern Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean? From there it would be possible to connect with cables running to the Gulf, to India and beyond.  

That would mean getting to Tanzania, where cables land at Dar es Salaam, or to Mozambique, where the only landing is at Maputo in the far south. “We have a border with Zambia, and Zambia has borders with Tanzania and Mozambique,” says Nunes.

A connection from the west coast of Africa to the east coast could provide “a big portion of the traffic” on SACS, he says. It could be a joint venture with a African terrestrial fibre company. “We’re already started the research, but I’m not sure of the timescale.”

Until then Angola Cables can deliver traffic from the Americas into Africa’s inland fibre networks only via the ACE and WACS connections into South Africa.

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.”

And those data centres at each end of SACS? “We’re building two data centres, one in Angola and one in Brazil. The south of Brazil is already well connected, very First World.”

But the north of Brazil, the region served by Fortaleza, “is a completely other reality”, he says. “It’s quite similar to Africa, with relatively poor infrastructure and connectivity.” However, there are “15 subsea cables in Fortaleza”, he says.

That’s why the data centre is there. Fortaleza could be a centre of diversity in communications like Miami is today.