[business day] Tests have begun on the undersea telecoms cable Seacom with its switch-on only 29 days away.
The cable has been brought ashore at Mtunzini near Durban as the 600m project stays on schedule. Tests under way will ensure all the connections in the 17000km cable are fully operational and optimum traffic flow is achieved before its commercial launch on June 27.
The cable links India to SA and runs up Africa's east coast to the Middle East and Europe. It promises to end the dearth of bandwidth that has kept prices high and data transmissions down for African countries.
"It's a huge impact for SA, but it's a much bigger impact for east Africa," said CEO Brian Herlihy yesterday. "Communities in Africa are all depending on information and communications technology infrastructure as a catalyst for development."
Herlihy said originally its bandwidth would be 90% cheaper than existing supplies. But price cuts as operators prepared for the Seacom threat will make its savings closer to 40%-50% now.
The cost to consumers will also depend on the profit margin operators buying Seacom bandwidth, including Vodacom and Internet Solutions, want.
Seacom expects a return on its investment in five years -- conservative if consumers quickly demand more bandwidth to enjoy new applications such as video conferencing and movie downloads. Africa's only other submarine cable runs up the west coast, but its owners, including Telkom , have charged high fees.
Seacom bandwidth would be sold at far lower prices, said Herlihy. With the system substantially completed and testing under way, it was close to delivering on its commitment and becoming the first cable to provide eastern and southern African retail carriers with open access to inexpensive bandwidth, he said yesterday.
Neotel would run the landing station in SA and deliver capacity nationwide. Landlocked countries would benefit from Seacom's "cheap and plentiful" bandwidth, Herlihy said. It was working to ensure cross-country networks were built to carry its capacity inland. Those backhaul cables were being laid to Johannesburg, Kampala, Kigali and Nairobi.
Heavy investment by SA's cellular networks in a new national backbone were probably triggered by Seacom's arrival as their networks needed upgrading to benefit from the huge international capacity about to arrive.
While several other undersea cables are being planned, not all may materialise due to the enormous costs involved. Some government-led projects risk being sunk by the complexity of trying to include many governments in the initiatives.
Seacom was initiated by US-based Herakles Telecom. It diluted its own stake down to 23,75%, to bring in outside funding and comply with SA's demand for any cable landing in the country to be majority African owned.
Local investors are Venfin with 25%, Shanduka Group with 12,5% and Convergence Partners, with 12,5%.
Seacom on Track for Its Switch-On