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Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Finally, the third submarine cable to call at the Port of Mombasa, is here albeit 4 years late. Those in the know will remember this was the first cable that was meant to connect the Eastern Africa seaboard but boardroom wrangles and ulterior moves by South Africans who wanted to control the cable set it back.

In fact, Kenya's own cable TEAMS was conceived when during a meeting of countries in SA to discuss the cable, Information PS Bitange Ndemo stood up and issued an ultimatum from the Kenyan government.

"If the next meeting does not resolve when we start laying this cable, Kenya will go on its own," the then new PS told a stunned but disbelieving audience. The rest as they say is history.

This weekend, the East frica Submarine System (EASSY) a project spearheaded by the Western Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC) will land in Mombasa.

The WIOCC guys have promised that internet costs will drastically come down. But more interestingly, is the cost of calling between African countries which is still higher than the rates at which we call the UK and US.

EASSY has a unique model that brings together African landline operators who will serve as the cable's backhaul and provide redundancy.

Basically by ensuring these African operators are all interconnected, it will cut off Europe as an exchange point for phone calls originating from Africa and destined for other African countries.

Currently to call another African country for example requires routing of traffic to Europe and then back to Africa.

EASSY will now join TEAMS (Kenyan owned) and SEACOM (Aga Khan Fund, Cyril Ramaphosa and American investors) and will provide diversity.

WIOCC CEO Chris Wood and GM James Wekesa have said this is the first fully connected cable because it goes straight to Europe whereas TEAMS connects to Fujairah in Dubai for onward connectivity and SEACOM connects through Mumbai from where it can connect to I-ME-WE (India Middle East and Western Europ) cable.

THe other unique feature of this cable is that it will allow for monthly contracts and sell bandwidth at lower quantities than the other two.

It will be interesting to see how Kenyan telecoms who have stubbornly refused to bring down bandwidth costs (some say its because they had entered into expensive Satellite Bandwidth contracts which they want to first pay off) will react.

Wananchi Group which has spoken of doing 1000KM of terrestrial fiber optic cable looks to be the wildcard here. For, although the Ministry of Information has threatened to crack down on price collusion amongst operators, it is only the market per se which can bring prices down. Wananchi can for example decide it doesnt have the number of clients Safaricom or Orange have and opt to slash prices precipitously to gain clientele.

If this happens, others are bound to follow.

Countries covered by EASSY:
  • Botswana
  • Burundi
  • Ethiopia
  • Lesotho
  • Malawi
  • Rwanda
  • Swaziland
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

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