WACS owners muted on broadband price cuts

The South African contingent of the West Africa Cable System (WACS) consortium has largely side-stepped details of how the cable will reduce broadband prices for consumers, following a commercial launch on Friday (11 May).

The WACS consortium consists of 14 African telecoms operators, including local firms MTN, Vodacom, Broadband Infraco, Neotel (through Tata Communications) and Telkom.

The 17,200km WACS fibre optic submarine cable system spans the west coast of Africa, starting at Yzerfontein near Cape Town, South Africa and terminating in the United Kingdom. The cable cost $650 million.

Angus Hay, GM of strategic business development at Neotel, and co-chairman of the WACS management committee, said at a press conference in Cape Town on Friday that operators have significantly reduced the wholesale cost of bandwidth over the past several years.

He suggested that it was probably between 80- 90%. “Probably over the last few years, you are looking at an 80-90% reduction on the back of competition. WACS adds to that, WACS adds further competition. The wholesale reduction has happened in the South African market, and despite continuous concerns, there is no doubt that value has gone up and the prices have come down in South Africa over the last few years,” Hay said.

He said that timing was an issue regarding the exact nature of WACS’ direct impact on the local market, but added that, already, there was more competition.

MTN chief technology officer (CTO), Kanagaratnam Lambotharan said that the cost of mobile broadband had gone down by a factor of three to four times over the past three years; and, as a result of increased infrastructure and competition, it had naturally translated into cheaper prices over the past few years.

WACS talks up quality

Telkom said that the introduction of WACS into its undersea cable portfolio would complete its second ring of capacity around the African continent. The S3WS, EASSy and SMW3 cables already form a ring around Africa.

“The commercial availability of WACS provides Telkom with significant capacity at each of the three cable gateways into and out of the country (Mtunzini, Melkbosstrand and Yzerfontein) making it possible to offer more diverse, redundant, high capacity global service solutions,” it said.

Designed to support present and future Internet, e-commerce, data, video and voice services, the capacity of the entire system is 5.12 terabits per second (Tbps). The system makes use of dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) technology, which enables the transport of multiple wavelengths over a single fibre pair, as well as multiplication of capacity.

The initial capacity of WACS is over 500 Gbps, and is upgradable at any stage of the project life span.

Neotel’s Hay stressed that the group’s customers were highly unlikely to experience downtime following the launch of WACS.

“The addition of WACS to Neotel’s international connectivity dramatically increases the availability of reliable high capacity bandwidth to Western Europe and the Americas, by far the highest traffic route for the country. It also means that Neotel will be able to optimise its international costs by carrying traffic on cost-effective routes,” the group said.

“MTN’s investment in WACS will now ensure that millions of our customers can speed along the global information superhighway by accessing huge capacities with the ability to optimally utilise data and telemetry offerings which modern telephony applications provide,” MTN’s Lambotharan said.

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WACS owners muted on broadband price cuts