Archive for the ‘fibre optic cable’ Tag

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.

Review of Fibre Optic Cable in East Africa – Part 2

Fast forward to Q2 of 2009, and Kenya has finally joined the ranks of the information superhighway, thanks to two submarine fibre optic cables, dubbed TEAMS an EASSY safely in Mombasa.

Post Update!

Thanks to Seth’s comment in Part 1, SEACOM (a Mauritius based company, that provides high capacity bandwidth linking business and communities) is laying a cable that will link the East Coast of Africa linking Southern and East Africa, Europe and South Asia. There is a landing at Mombasa for the 1.2TB/s capacity cable, to enable high definition TV, peer to peer networks, IPTV, and surging Internet demand. Pricing will be significantly lower than current satellite or fibre pricing cable. Bring it on SEACOM!

Read part 1 here for details and comment. What does it mean for internetpreneurs like me who want to hog broadband bandwidth from the balcony? What does it mean for technology companies in Kenya? What about education institutions? Once the mystical fibre optic cable lands in Mombasa, Kenya will never be the same again. At least that is what pundits tell us. We are assured of bottom rock priced high-speed Internet, access to the vaults that hold all the information we could ever need. But is price the issue?

What Kenya needs badly is last mile infrastructure, the home stretch. We have invested heavily in backbone transmission capacity from Mombasa where the cable is landing to the rest of the country. Telkom Kenya, KDN, Jamii Telkom and the Govt of Kenya through FONN is ensuring every village will have lit fibre a stone throw away. Many large institutions (hospitals, research institutes, education institutes etc have their own campus fibre ring).

Last mile ….. The question is how then do we interconnect my village ePasha center to the world? The options are limitless, with wireless providing some of the best options. Am seeing some home grown companies offering my village connectivity to the backbone cable. We could use wireless e.g WiMAX to deliver the information to my coffee farm. The options are many, and we shall not be re-inventing the wheel. In another part of this series we shall look at what the ISPs and PDNOs are offering.

The biggest boom is however expected in the BPO sector. Already the operators in this sub-sector have formed an association to better front their cause and case. It is expected that with a large pool of young, educated Kenyans with impeccable English (unlike mine), this area will take off. But we need to remember that this industry is very competitive and we shall be late entrants. I still think that we can do alot of call centres (alot of experience is being developed especially by the GSM operators), back office operations, software technology parks, and other outsourcing jobs that can keep our people happy and gainfully employed. We can now comfortably have hosting companies and managed server farms, offering crucial redundancy and disaster recovery for others in the rest of the world. Ah! it shall truly be exciting times in Kenya.

While we celebrate the landing of the cable (I cannot wait for that day), we need to think ahead and create opportunities for our economy, so the landing of the cables at Mombasa is not the end of the story.

TEAMS and EASSY, we await. In part 3 we shall look indepth at BPO, calls centres, software technology parks, cyber villages (and cafes), KeKoBi, and the Kenya ICT Boards role.

Fibre Optic Cable, Broadband, Wimax, Wi-fi

Here in Kenya, we are the last frontier in the digital divide. We are happy to say though that all is not lost in the struggle to emancipate ourselves from lack of submarine FOC to our shores. Thanks to lack of visionary planning, silly politics and big brother attitude, we are submarine FOCless. Just when we were beginning to get frustrated and snail-pace connections were killing us with hefty bills, there is a flurry of announcements. Submarine FOC is coming our way. All of a sudden we have like 3 cable laying ships competing to hook up our shores to the global digital village.

Meanwhile, in Kenya the ISPs are working very hard. We have all manner of supposed broadband, from Africa Online’s Infinet to KDNs Butterfly. The Kenyan government not being left in the zeal to connect the villages with FOC and setting up digital kiosks / centers, known as Pasha. While on cables, fiber of otherwise, Jamii Telecom is finishing its Nairobi metro fiber network. In essence if the ISPs in Nairobi were reading this (usually they don’t bother), they would have found out where I live, asked Jamii to extend the fiber from the roadside outside my house to a wiring closet at the basement, and then hooked my apartment. I in turn would terminate the connection to my secure wireless broadband router, and retire to my balcony and surf, barefoot.

I have alot of faith in the entrepreneurial skills of Kenyans, so do not disappoint me.