Review of Fibre Optic Cable in East Africa — Part 1

The much-talked about digital divide has left a yawning gap between the Eastern African countries and the rest of the world. A lot has been done by national telecoms companies, mostly former lethargic government-owned entities. They have kept us connected to the world using satellite links. Though stable, we have to contend with high costs. Higher bandwidths usually means more money shelled out. The cost of satellite links is high, and their reliability and bandwidth not the best. We shall retain the links as back up, since even under sea cables get broken or cut by deep sea trawlers, if not under sea quakes. Time has now come for us to cross the chasm and leap into the information superhighway. Hello world!

Not to be left behind, the Kenyan government, inspired by a growing economy hungry for information has spurred growth in the telecoms sector like never before. For once we have an enabling and responsive political climate. This has meant the government can now attract top-notch professionals to steer the ship across the digital divide. The Ministry of Information and Communications is now very visible and its PS is very vocal and energetic on matters fibre optic cable connection to Mombasa. The Kenya ICT Board on its part is the vehicle driving the ICT dream all the way to my village. I hope my people shall appreciate all these efforts.

We have many home grown companies that are complementing Telkom Kenya’s efforts to connect us. Telkom on their part are now a leaner and more efficient outfit, thanks to a restructuring and eventual sale to France Telecom. Their service provision has gone a notch higher, inspired no less by emerging start ups hungry for their business. Invariably, the battle for the fibre cable connection has gone a notch higher thanks to the new entrants.

First off the block was Telkom who laid a fibre between Mombasa City and Nairobi City. This was unprecedented, and Kenya Data Networks (KDN)matched them, with a similar link. The two went on to expand the fibre mesh within the cities and now it is common to have lit fibre in your door step. Not to be left behind, Jamii Telecom took the battle to the streets of Nairobi with their KES. 300 million Nairobi Metro Fibre. This mesh aims to bring fibre-to-the-home (FTTH). Lastly the Kenyan government through its Fibre Optic National Network (FONN) is laying fibre to the entire country, connecting villages and erstwhile remote places to the hubs in Nairobi and the landing spot in Mombasa. The Kenyan map has never looked better.

The missing link is Mombasa to the world …. but not to worry. We have two competing cable teams, TEAMS (The East African Marine System) and EASSY (East African Submarine Systems). The first, TEAMS, is a joint venture between the Govt of Kenya and Etisalat, the UAE national telecom operator. We should be hooked via Fujairah, UAE by Q1 of 2009. The Alcatel-Lucent cable laying ship is working round the clock to ensure this dream is realized. The other, Eassy, is an effort by the telecoms companies to get a share of the pie by laying a submarine cable all the way to Durban, South Africa. The more the merrier!

In part 2 we shall look at what all this cable being laid means for the Kenyan people and economy.

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6 comments so far

  1. Seth on

    What about Seacom? They will also be landing cable in Mombasa, hopefully between now and June ’09…

  2. Peter Njenga on

    My only worry is the time it’ll take before end users feel the effect of these fibre optic cables, especially cost-wise.
    We all know that EABL, BAT and company elevate prices the same day the budget is read but oil companies and supermarkets (and every other trader for that matter) all drag their feet in lowering prices.
    I believe the service providers will first have a holiday, claiming that they need to recover their initial investment. Consumers will benefit say, after 2010 – or later.
    I however stand to be corrected.

  3. mrkarugi on

    Thanks Peter!

    As usually happens in mass consumer products, its a chicken-egg story. For the cable guys to lower prices, there has to be a critical mass of customers. For there to be a critical mass of customers, they need low prices. Eventually market forces rule, and the prices go down as people connect.

    2010? Lets wait and see.

  4. Michael Kimani Gitonga on

    Hi,

    I would like to know if any of the Kenyan providers have fiber (or any backhaul) connectivity to Murang’a Town.

    Best Regards,
    Michael Kimani Gitonga.

  5. nicks on

    We who live in the ghetto will not benefit form fiber optic.I live in kangemi and there is a FOC passing outside my house 50 meters.It was meant for a certain telecom company.I am relying on a miserable dial up conection yet there is wifi which about 600m from my house and i canot connect to that either.The problem is that ISPs are giving the worst kind of service and are not accountable.I hope they are reading.I have just wait for the cable to land next year maybe something will change

  6. Jonas on

    “Lastly the Kenyan government through its Fibre Optic National Network (FONN) is laying fibre to the entire country, connecting villages and erstwhile remote places to the hubs in Nairobi and the landing spot in Mombasa.”

    Never heard of this before. Do you have a link to how far it has been built?


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