No new sub-sea cable needed for a decade: Telkom

Telkom says that the West Africa Cable System (WACS) meets its capacity requirements for at least the next decade.

Telkom is part of a consortium of 14 telecoms operators – including South Africa’s largest rivals Neotel, Broadband Infraco, MTN and Vodacom – who own and operate the $650 million WACS system which launched commercially on Friday (11 May).

WACS spans the west coast of Africa, starting at Yzerfontein near Cape Town, South Africa, and terminating in the UK. It will increase South Africa’s international bandwidth capacity by 5.12Tbps.

Johan Meyer, Telkom’s executive for global capacity told BusinessTech: “From a Telkom perspective, I would say that our opinion is no [to a new cable]. We believe that WACS is exactly what we intended it to be and that is to future-proof the capacity requirements for at least the next decade.”

“Now, WACS on its own cannot serve the South African market. That is why we have multiple cables, for diversity and redundancy,” Meyer said.

WACS is the country’s fifth submarine fibre optic cable. In addition to WACS, the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) connects countries of eastern Africa to the rest of the world. Seacom is a privately funded initiative which built, owns, and operates a cable that connects south and east Africa.

SAT-3/WASC or South Atlantic 3/West Africa Submarine Cable links Portugal and Spain to South Africa, with connections to several West African countries along the route. It forms part of the SAT-3/WASC/SAFE cable system, where the SAFE cable links South Africa to Asia. The South Africa Far East (SAFE) cable links SA to Malaysia.

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

Telkom’s Meyer said that, in due course, “if Sat-3 should run out of capacity and the EASSy upgrades have taken place and we have a problem in terms of, maybe we cannot go further with Sat-3, I think a replacement will have to be considered. But I think for maybe the next three to five years, I believe we will vastly focus on things like upgrades,” he said.

SAex (South Atlantic Express) is a proposed submarine communications cable linking South Africa and Angola to Brazil with onward connectivity to the US that will connect to the existing GlobeNet cable system. The project was announced in 2011 by eFive Telecoms and is expected to cost R3 billion to complete.

Kobus Stoeder, executive of global capacity at Vodacom, said he would welcome an additional cable into the country. “The more diversity the better,” he said adding, however, that it would be more pertinent to maximise the assets the group currently had on its existing cables.

“One can’t put all your eggs in one basket. We need diversity. There are five systems in SA, we have access to all of them. WACS will provide a very significant increase in capacity. One needs to ensure that from an operational perspective we are able to provide services all the time,” the Vodacom executive said.

Broadband Infraco’s executive manager for special projects, Vishen Maharaj said that WACS provided sufficient capacity for the nation. “It’s adequate,” he said, noting that such a question also depended on where one wanted the cable to run to and from.

The group said its share of the total capacity of WACS would offer the country a strategic opportunity to fulfil the vision of broadband-for-all by 2020.

It said that 70% of the Broadband Infraco-owned WACS capacity will be dedicated towards projects of key national interest, and the remainder will be dedicated towards supporting other government projects that require international capacity and ensuring commercial availability of capacity to other telecommunications operators who require wholesale capacity.

Broadband Infraco CEO, Puleng Sejanamane said: “The company is in the process of rolling out an IP/MPLS core network between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban (initially), in order to provide customers with the option of buying long-distance IP/Ethernet services as an alternative (or in addition to) SDH or Ethernet/SDH.”

“We have capacity for the project and we have earmarked capacity for the project. Without WACS, it would have been almost impossible to provide capacity,” Broadband Infraco’s Maharaj concluded.

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No new sub-sea cable needed for a decade: Telkom