Friday marked the commercial launch of the ultra high-capacity 14 500km long West African Cable System (WACS), and in addition to adding more than 40% to South Africa’s existing international broadband capacity, the launch also marks an important milestone in Vodacom‘s ongoing drive to unlock the power of the Internet.
According to the Department of Communications, only around 2% of South Africans have access to fixed-line broadband, whereas 17% access broadband via smartphones. The link between Internet penetration and GDP growth is well-established, which is why economic growth and job creation hinge on seeing a step change in data connectivity.
The challenge from the fixed-line perspective is that less than 10% of the population has access to a telephone line. On the other hand, with virtually 100% of the population having mobile phone coverage, only a few more things need to fall in place to make that step change a reality.
Speaking about this, Vodacom’s Chief Technology Officer, Andries Delport said:
“It’s clear that mobile technology is the quickest and most practical route to spreading Internet access to all South Africans. With a high base of the population already covered, we only need to get two key things in place and SA can quite literally take a giant leap forward. The first part is obvious – cheaper smart devices that everyone can afford. The second part is to ensure that the mobile networks can support the data traffic.”
“WACS is an important piece in that network puzzle. Vodacom is investing billions of Rands rolling out new base stations and connecting those base stations into our network via fibre-optic cables. That’s fine when the data traffic is just buzzing around within SA, but can hit a bottleneck when it comes to getting data from international websites. WACS addresses this.”
The new cable adds over 400 Gigabits per second (Gbps) of international broadband capacity on launch, which is equal to the download of 4.8 million MP3 files or over 5 000 DVDs per minute. The cable can also be upgraded to provide more capacity when needed. WACS also gives operators like Vodacom additional network resiliency whereby traffic can be rerouted if another cable is severed.
The benefits, however, may not be immediately obvious.
“International connectivity is actually a pretty small part of the overall cost of delivering a megabyte of data via mobile, so this isn’t going to change the economics of our industry overnight. However, it is most definitely a step in the right direction in terms of ensuring that South Africa is fully connected to the rest of the world and an important part of Vodacom’s drive to unlock the power of the Internet in the country.”