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.


11 comments so far

  1. […] broadband internet, e-commerce, e-government, fibre optics, internet, Kenya | As discussed in part I, Kenya and the East African countries, recently joined the rest of the world in high speed, […]

  2. wioccuser on

    I really like your analogy using the limitless well… I’m developing some training and I’ve been trying to come up with something to describe the internet in this way, so thanks for solving the problem for me.

    Mike Last, author of

    • Guru on

      I am happy to have been of assistance. That is precisely why I wrote the piece. Check out for part II, now posted.

  3. paul on

    thanks for the insight on the these latest stuff.a civil by proffesion but moving in to GSM world.

    keep the good work!!!

    • Guru on

      Thanks and welcome. I am happy to have been of service, it is by sharing our perspectives that we can learn and educate each other.

  4. John Mochache on

    Whoever, how can tell me size of bandwidth of fiber optic Kenya as today.
    thank you,


    • Mike on

      Hi John,
      The answer depends on exactly what question you are asking…

      Three fibre-optic submarine cable systems have landed in Mombasa offering potential capacity of 4.72Tbps (EASSy) + 1.28Tbps (Seacom) + 1.28Tbps (TEAMS) = a total of 7.28Tbps. This would be enough to download 190 full-length DVDs in 1 second. However, only a small proportion of this capacity has been ‘lit’ (i.e. equipped for use) so far, and it is not ‘dedicated’ to Kenya – it is available for other countries to use.

      The latest report from the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) reports that “at Sept. 2010, the total international bandwidth available in the country was 202,240 Mbps” – which includes submarine (99%) and satellite (1%) bandwith.

      So that’s the international piece. Within Kenya, fibre-optic networks have been (and are continuing to be) constructed by a variety of companies, mainly in business and residential districts of Nairobi and Mombasa, and the National Optic Fibre Backbone Initiative (NOFBI) is a $60 million (Sh4.4 billion) government-owned terrestrial fibre network, whose construction was financed by the CCK. This reaches out to many parts of the country and borders with neighbouring countries.

      However, if you can’t connect directly to fibre (and most can’t), your access to all this bandwidth is either through a copper fixed-line connection or a wireless connection from your fixed or mobile provider – both of which support much lower bandwidth connections. Currently, Safaricom – with the only 3G network in the market – boasts top speeds of 14.4Mbps, but users are unliely to get more than a third of that given that capacity is shared between users and Safaricom has millions of subscribers.

  5. Murimi on

    That is surely a master piece article.
    Its over an year that we are having this flow of water thru our pipes and unfortunately very little traffic taking advantage of global connectivity and profiting their in.
    How can an Education on internet Marketing program create literacy and empowerment in this sleeping giant.
    We are waiting for Part II.

  6. paul on

    cheeers men for the great article.!

    now currently who are the best guys (zuku…jamii telecom..kdn..safaricom and any other operators )to offer unlimited and affordable internet either via wimax…or fiber

  7. mucheru macharia on

    wow! very informative!!

  8. on

    wow! very informative and well thought.

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