Wacs gets geeks into frenzy
Until three years ago, there was only one undersea cable that brought internet connectivity to South Africa.
There was enormous excitement when Seacom landed in June 2009. It broke the monopoly of Telkom's SAT3 cable, but it also started a small revolution of cheaper broadband internet access in the country.
Last weekend, another undersea cable landed, called Wacs, for the West Africa Cable System. The 14500km cable reaches from South Africa up the west coast of Africa to London, linking 14 countries and further wiring up the continent.
It cost a cool $650-million and has 5.12 terabits per second. Seacom cost $600-million and has just under a quarter of the capacity, or 1.28Tbps, albeit landing in 10 countries only.
It may sound terribly geeky, but it is worth getting excited about because it represents the normalisation of the internet in Africa.
Let's not forget that we are far away from the hubs of connectivity in North America, Europe and Asia. The only way to get internet to Africa is via undersea cables.
There have been many new ones in recent years. As is the case in the industry that thrives on three-letter acronyms, and itself goes by the name of information and communication technologies, they sometimes have tongue-twister initials.
But what is significant is we have seen the cost of broadband significantly decrease in the last few years, while uncapped ADSL finally arrived. This is still not ideal and Telkom still controls too much of the base infrastructure, keeping prices artificially high.
But it has spurred a massive increase in internet users, which reached 8.5million at the end of last year, up 25% from the 6.8million in 2010. Of these, 7.9million are on cellphones, according to the Internet Access in SA 2012 study.
''While smartphones are the main driver of internet growth, the cost of data use is being driven down by the proliferation of undersea cables connecting sub-Saharan Africa," said Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, which released the report last week.
''The study shows that undersea cable capacity to South Africa at the end of 2011 was 2.69 terabits per second, and due to rise to 11.9Tbps by the end of 2012."
''That capacity will double again in 2013," he added.