Fibre Optic Cables and Internet Bandwidth in Kenya : The Basics, part I
This is fibre optic cables 101. The basics, introduction, definitely not for the experts. Read on if you are, or not.
I always use the analogy of a water pipe to try and describe the much-talked about fibre optic cables and bandwidth. It is until we understand what the basics are, that we can begin to get a clue on what the fuss is all about. Then we shall fully embrace the potential that we are sitting on as a country.
Imagine we have water pipes running from a fresh water well to our homes. The well has an inexhaustible supply of water, so the only limit to the quantity of water flowing into your home is the size of the pipe delivering the water. You are at liberty to connect a pipe(s) of whatever size, depending on your needs and ability. The size or quantity of the pipes used do not matter, the well cannot run out of water. Also understand that the need for water in your home is essential, whatever the you use it for.
In the Kenya of yester years, we had “small, limited capacity” pipes to connect us to the rest of the world (or well). These pipes carried data (or Internet) and voice traffic from Kenya to the well. The pipes were used to take care of all bi-directional traffic into/out of Kenya. The “pipe capacity” is what is called “bandwidth”, and in the past we used satellites (or small, limited capacity pipes) to connect us to the world (or the well as described above).
After alot of twiddling of fingers, hand wringing, foot dragging and general indecison, we managed to lay bigger “pipes” from Mombasa to various parts of the world, by inter-connecting with existing bigger “pipes” regionally.
The only thing that has changed is now we have bigger capacity pipes (called sub-marine or undersea fibre optic cables) from three suppliers, i.e. Seacom, TEAMS and Eassy. All these bandwidth suppliers are selling their bandwidth capacity to resellers, called Internet Service providers (or ISPs). The ISPs then further resell the bandwidth to you and me, the consumer. Do not worry about the complex technology connecting you and the world, that is not important, for now.
Note: They are called “submarine” or “undersea” cables because from Mombasa the cables are laid on the seabed all the way to the inter-connection points farther afield.
The immediate effect of this limitless capacity is we should now, theoretically, be able to have faster and cheaper connections to the world. Our international voice calls should be clearer, without static or the annoying delay. Our Internet experience should be richer, faster and we should be able to access bandwidth-intensive applications like streaming video with no delay. Downloads should be faster, saving us time and money. Uploads should be faster, saving us time and money. Anything interactive, like video-conferencing, should be a breeze.
NOTE: I keep saying “should”, because the reality for you and me may not be any different from the recent past.
OK, now you ask, so what? What is the big deal? Why all the fuss? So what if we have superb speeds due to the limitless bandwidth? How does this change my life, or yours? How does it change my grandmother’s life, back in my village? How does it change the small or the big commercial farmer’s life? Or the student, or politician, or small or big business owner? Or the matatu owner, or priest in your church? Or the government hospital or the goverment? Now that we have an almost limitless bandwidth capacity, what does it really mean for the ordinary Internet user like you and me?
Will this capacity create jobs? Change the economy? How? When? What has been the impact / experience in other countries? Could this be another over-hyped technological farce?
Worry not, I will hold your hand and walk you through this. This will form part II of our discussion.
Let me have your feedback below.