WACS consortium dismisses monopoly talk

The South African contingent of the $650 million West Africa Cable System (WACS) has dismissed suggestions of a monopoly and insists that the cable will create further competition and improve broadband services in SA.

The consortium consists of 14 telecoms operators, including South Africa’s largest rivals Neotel (through Tata Communications), Telkom, Broadband Infraco, MTN and Vodacom.

At the commercial unveiling of the 4-fibre pair submarine cable system in Cape Town on Friday (11 May), the group stressed that the open-access nature of the cable would lead to increased competition, rather than act as a barrier to progress.

Chief technology officer (CTO) and co-chairman of the WACS management committee, Angus Hay pointed out that the chairman of the committee, Adrian Moss, of Cable & Wireless, provided a neutral element to the group, adding that “any carrier can come to the cable station,” he said.

Johan Meyer, Telkom’s executive for global capacity business, joked that he was amazed that the project was completed following several meetings between the various rival operators.

“I think if you were in meetings of the management committee over the past few days, you will have a very different opinion, and would be wondering how it was possible that we did work together on this project.”

Meyer thanked the chairman, and co-chairman for facilitating and ensuring that such a “momentous accession” was made possible.

He said that the collaboration provided the ability to share the cost of the cable network. “It’s also important to recognise that the so-called collaboration is of great benefit to the country and to the South African consumer.”

Highlighting the overall contribution of $650 million to build the cable, Meyer said that if each operator had decided to go the project alone, it would have cost closer to $3 billion. He questioned how a single operator would be able to pass on that cost to the consumer at a reasonable price.

“And that, ultimately, is going to end up in the cost to consumers, mainly by the increase in value that they will be offered,” Meyer said.

Kobus Stoeder, executive of global capacity at Vodacom confessed that the collaboration with rival operators in SA “was very difficult at times. It hasn’t been easy”. He said that if it hadn’t been for the cost of the cable, “we would have preferred doing it on our own”.

He pointed to other areas in the telecommunications market, including base stations, which were being shared by rival operators. “Amongst other things its cost sharing and the environmental impact,” Stoeder said, adding that to land the cable, it was becoming more difficult, obtaining permits and similar obstacles.

He stressed that open-access was factored into the operating model to ensure a smooth operating procedure.

“It’s not just about the speed, but about the quality and the resilience of service,” said CTO of MTN, Kanagaratnam Lambotharan. “It’s about the richness of service this provides,” he said.

WACS will increase South Africa’s international bandwidth capacity by 5.12Tbps and provide the country with another submarine cable system on the West Coast of Africa.

The 17,200km WACS fibre optic submarine cable system will immediately raise South Africa’s current broadband capacity by more than 500Gbps, with the potential to grow further as bandwidth is needed.

WACS spans the west coast of Africa, starting at Yzerfontein near Cape Town, South Africa and terminating in the United Kingdom.

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WACS consortium dismisses monopoly talk