By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 17 May 2011

A major imperative throughout Africa is the building the terrestrial network infrastructure to connect to the various landing points of the undersea cables that have landed on the east and west coasts. “The Tanzanian government has built a terrestrial fibre network ring around its borders and is working on connecting this to Seacom in Dar Es Salem,” says Seacom CEO Brian Herlihy.

He says work is also in progress to build terrestrial networks to connect landlocked Botswana and Zimbabwe to Seacom from South Africa and Mozambique. “In Mozambique the government owned telecommunications operator TDM has built a network that reaches the Zimbabwe border.”

In Zimbabwe, multiple infrastructure providers are also building terrestrial networks to reach the borders of Mozambique and South Africa. Botswana and Namibia are already connected to Seacom through Broadband Infraco’s fibre network, which reaches those countries, says Herlihy.

“We have counted $6 billion of investment in terrestrial fibre networks just in East and Southern Africa.” He says Seacom has formed a relationship with MainOne undersea cable operator to connect to Nigeria.

“Going via Europe to MainOne to connect to Nigeria is still faster and cheaper than using satellite.” Herlihy says Seacom is interconnecting with the TEAMS undersea cable in Kenya and is working on doing the same with the EASSy cable in Tanzania.

“This will give us alternative routing.” A lot of discussions are going on to determine how to bring internet content from China and the US into Africa and cache it locally for faster access.

“There is a lot of demand for Chinese content in Africa.” He says Seacom has so much bandwidth it can download the content during off-peak times to a local internet exchange hub, many of which are being set up throughout Africa.

These include Dar Es Salem and Mozambique, and in South Africa there are three or four.
Internet exchanges are usually run by non-profit organisations that are replicating what is what is being done in other countries around the world.

Herlihy says Seacom is acting as a facilitator for new exchanges that are being set up. “We are hosting one of these exchanges in our cable station in Mozambique and it provides a peering hub where ISPs  can cache and share internet content.”

He says Seacom is helping to facilitate the creating of local content that can be cached at this and other exchanges. “The objective is to create an African internet experience.”

With the arrival of multiple undersea cables in Africa, communication has become a lot more affordable and the economies of some African countries are growing a the rate of 5% to 6% a year, says Herlihy. He says over the past decade economic growth on the continent has come from embracing other markets.

But now that African governments are becoming more stable they need to generate growth through worker productivity. “The communications infrastructure will be there to support this,” says Herlihy.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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