11 February 2008

Kenya: State Ups Links to Avoid Disruption of Internet

Kenyan authorities have been sent back to the drawing board after last week's disruptions of fibre optic cable operations in Egypt and the Arabian gulf left nearly 73 million people without Internet and telephone connectivity.

Industry insiders say the Government has assembled a team of experts to formulate a redundancy plan that will ensure the heavy investment into fibre optic connectivity does not suffer the same fate.

"This only underscores the need for multiple connectivity. In the absence of multiple solutions, it is important to link to either SAT 3 or SAFE cables in the south," said Information permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo.

The PS said the contingency plans should ensure that the Government-backed TEAMS is linked to both the Northern and Southern network of fibre optic cables to reduce the level of exposure.

Kenya is awaiting the arrival of three main undersea cables that are expected to enable it join the club of nations that have access to high speed internet.

Meanwhile, growth consulting company Frost & Sullivan has warned that unless Kenya's fibre optic connectivity projects are speedily concluded they run the risk of floundering amidst ownership wrangles and project control.

Frost and Sullivan's industry analyst Lindsey McDonald said capital expenditure on fixed telecommunications in Africa rose to $195 million in 2006, with undersea cables as one of the key drivers.

"Governments, regulatory authorities, network operators and other key stake holders have to reach a consensus on strategies and ensure that the cables are laid as quickly as possible," said Ms McDonald.

The East African seaboard is among the world's regions that are yet to get fibre optic connectivity.

Over the past four years, competition to connect the region to the global network of fibre optic cables has been rising with 2009 as the tentative deadline. Competing initiatives include EASSy, TEAMs and SEACOM.

Fibre optic connectivity is seen as being central to the expansion of telecommunications services throughout Africa, although there have been misgivings over the huge costs, and redundancy options should they fail.

Shortly after securing $70.7 million in funding from donor partners, the $235 million EASSy project is said to have been hit by further delays following reports that key partners are considering pulling out of the project due to ownership and construction issues.

EASSy is yet to confirm construction has started on the project following the March 2007 signing of a Supply Contract with Alcatel-Lucent, who were expected to implement the Eassy submarine cable project on a full turnkey basis.

South African publications report that Alcatel-Lucent has since increased cable construction costs which could put projected completion dates at risk.

The EASSy project was expected to be fully operational in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa.

Challenges notwithstanding, Frost believes there are abundant opportunities for investors in the African telecommunications sector and says countries that do not invest adequately in telecommunications will be left on the wrong side of the widening digital divide.

In its selected African Fixed Telecommunications Operator CAPEX Trends report, the firm reports that there are several prospects for partnerships between industrial companies and the telecommunications sector.

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