East Africa: Giving Peace a Chance - New Carrier Neutral Cable Will Be Complete By 2021 and Offers a New Range of Connections for East Africa

London — The recently announced PEACE cable adds another international link to Africa that is actually being built rather than being just at the planning stage. Russell Southwood looks at whose behind the cable and what it will offer.

In July this year I wrote of the plans by OTT companies Google and Facebook to build a new generation of cables (see the article here). Now one Africa's newest cables - PEACE (Pakistan & East Africa Connecting Europe) is to be built by a Chinese cable manufacturing group and a Hong-Kong based international ICT company PCCW, which has a strong interest in Africa.

It feels like the days of African telecoms consortium-built cables are coming to an end and that the shift in market power from the continent's mobile companies is happening further up the supply chain. The several planned international fibre cables along the east coast - some of which were telecoms-initiated- now may never get built.

PEACE will run from two points in Pakistan (Karachi and Gwadar) to Sub-Saharan Africa: in phase one two branching cables will go to Kenya and Djibouti and then onwards up the Suez Canal and across Egypt to Marseille in France. Phase 2 will add an additional cable from Mombasa to South Africa. There are further actual and potential landing points described below.

There are only three investors: PCCW Global, Chinese manufacturing group, Hentong (which among other things builds submarine systems) and France's Orange. Those behind the cable have said:" There is a need for a flexible and carrier-neutral system serving this region. Private investment is deploying a system within a system configuration which gives each party the required flexibility to design its own subsystem. Orange has purchased 500GB of capacity between Kenya and Marseille. Construction of PEACE will be completed by Q2/3 2021 and the system has a 16 T capacity per fibre pair.

According to Orange's press release:"(It bought into the cable) in order to support the growth of traffic in the Indian Ocean for several years. The objective is also to find alternative routes and to reduce its dependency on the EASSy cable which links Djibouti to South Africa".

Carrier neutrality will be ensured by the PoPs in each of the major landing countries being carrier neutral: Interexion in Marseille, iColo in Kenya and Cybernet in Pakistan.

Those building the cable are keen to add further landing points along the route and have configured the cable so that it can reach another 11 African countries. Seychelles is buying an additional cable link to Kenya as back-up and Somalia will have four new landing stations connecting to Kenya: Bosaso, Hobyo, Mogadishu, and Kismayo. The former two landing points are in Puntland and Kismayo is down towards the Kenyan border from the capital Mogadishu. The landing party for Mogadishu and Kismayo is Hormuud Telecom and for Puntland is Golis Telecom.

In terms of selling the capacity, there will be three main products: dark fibre pairs, managed spectrum and plain, old capacity. It can sell dark fibre fractionally: for example, a quarter or a half of a pair. But it will also provide capacity services of 100G/200G wavelength on the system and also 10G Ethernet services in major system PoPs. Buying spectrum is something not available on other cable systems.

Those familiar with the PEACE project say that "rates will be much lower. We're talking a different scale of capacity. Currently capacity is 10 GB-100GB but PEACE will be selling 100GB upwards. In two years time there may be other cables on these routes but PEACE is currently the only cable under construction and it will come into service ahead of the others that are planned".

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