Monday, July 12, 2010

East Africa: EASSy Fibre-Optic Cable Set for Launch This Month

By Al-amani Mutarubukwa
12 July 2010

The East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) will be switched on at the end of this month, officials said yesterday. The fibre-optic cable, which serves as a conduit for Internet and data traffic, arrived in the country in April this year but was yet to start operations
"We are now continuing with recruiting potential clients, mainly wholesalers and government institutions, before going live at the end of July," said Mr Norman Moyo, the Zantel chief commercial officer.


Various eastern and southern African telecommunication companies have a stake in EASSy. In Tanzania, TTCL and Zantel are shareholders in the fibre-optic cable. When it goes live, the cable system is expected to provide a capacity transport option to other network operators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The development is expected to provide more alternative Internet gateways to users in the country and avoid dependency on a single gateway, which becomes a problem when it breaks down. Last week the country went without Internet connections for two days because Seacom cable, currently the main gateway, developed technical problems off the Kenyan coast. Since then there have been persistent interruptions.

Latest reports indicate that the company's technical team had identified the exact location of the fault and the repair process had begun. However, while the repair process is expected to continue for several days, the actual completion date remains unknown due to several factors. These include the transit time of the ship, weather conditions and time spent on locating the cable.

The company's website said the faulty section of the cable was at one of the deepest points along its route, some 4.7 kilometres beneath the sea surface. "This may require robotics to be deployed to locate and retrieve the cable for repairs to be undertaken on board the specialised repair ship before replacing the cable back on the ocean floor," the company said in a posting on its website on Friday.

Early last week the country suffered its second major Internet connection breakdown in three months after a submarine fibre-optic cable experienced a serious technical problem off the coast of Mombasa, in Kenya.

Efforts to fix the problem culminated in the company contacting various stakeholders and providing them with alternative routes, which saw many internet users resuming their operations on Wednesday.
However, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been complaining that the recommended alternative connection routes turned out to be both expensive and slow. Banks, cybercafés, telecom companies and other offices were particularly hit hard by the fault on the cable which connects Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique to Europe and Asia.

A survey carried out by The Citizen (a Tanzanian newspaper) yesterday revealed that Internet Service Providers and bandwidth-hungry users had fallen back on satellite connections. "Such breakdowns are common practice in the industry, but we can still get network access using satellite connection as many operators have already done," the Tanzania Telecommunication Regulatory Authority chief, Mr John Nkhoma, told The Citizen over the phone.

However, industry players have been expressing concern that in an era where internet is becoming a pivotal factor of production, the country would continue suffering from repeated connection breakdowns due to its reliance on one cable.

The minister for Communication, Science and Technology, Prof Peter Msolla, told this paper on Thursday that the government had started engaging other gateways such as Uhuru One and Teams, both from Kenya. Apart from complementing one another, he said, multiple gateways would serve as a back-up in case one of them collapsed.

Submarine fibre-optic cables have opened a new era of the ICT industry in the country and the region at large, as they relay a reliable high-speed bandwidth. The East African Submarine System (EASSy) is being implemented along the east coast of Africa with nine landing stations in Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Comoros, Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa.
 
 Source : The Citizen (Dar es Salaam)