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South Africa's new Internet cable link could bring economic boom

A new $650 million cable system connecting southern Africa with West Africa and Europe will double the capacity of South Africa's mobile phone and Internet networks.

By Savious KwinikaCorrespondent, Scott BaldaufStaff writer / April 28, 2011

Workers lay a portion of the West Africa Cable System on the beach in Yzerfontein, on South Africa's west coast. The cable, which connects South Africa with West Africa and Europe, is expected to double the capacity of the country's mobile and Internet networks.

Nic Bothma/EFE/Newscom


Johannesburg, South Africa

When the $650 million West Africa Cable System landed in South Africa last week, it was a major step forward for a region that remains the one of the least-connected in the world.

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With one East African sea cable connecting South Africa with high-speed Internet systems in Asia and the Middle East, and now a second sea cable connecting southern Africa with West Africa and Europe, South Africa's capacity of mobile phone networks and Internet networks will double. When the two systems are fully operational, South Africans will be able to send and receive up to 500 gigabytes per second.

For South Africans who have gotten accustomed to slow dish-satellite Internet service, complete with restrictive “caps” on their monthly downloads, all of this will be very good news indeed. And if Kenya’s current economic boom is a gauge, then South Africa’s economy stands to benefit from a boom both from foreign and local business investment, as businesses become more efficient in sending information, and as foreign investors see South Africa as a more attractive place to invest.

“I think you’ll see the economic benefits across all sectors of the South African economy,” says Duncan McLeod, editor of Tech Central, a South African technology news service. “If you look at Kenya five years ago, it was undeveloped in terms of Internet access. There was no undersea cable, and the only way to get connectivity was through satellite systems. Now they have 3 or 4 sea cables and there is investment in fiber cables between cities."

But is South Africa really about to enter an economic boom spurred by technology?

High-tech companies certainly hope so, and they’ve invested millions of dollars to create the fiber-optic cables and infrastructure to take advantage of that boom.

A World Bank study from 2009 found that with a 10 percent increase in high-speed Internet connections, economic growth increases by 1.3 percent. It is almost certain that customers will see huge benefits from this investment, in faster Internet service at least. Whether it brings lower prices, as it has in Kenya, remains to be seen.

8,700 miles of cable

The West Africa Cable System (WACS) stretches 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles) and links up 15 established terminal stations from London to Portugal, and onward to Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, and finally now to South Africa. Its capacity is 5.12 terabits per second (Tbps), equal to the carrying capacity of the Seacom, EASSy and SAT-3/WASC/SAFE cable systems combined.


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