Zimbabwe connects to undersea broadband network

Zimbabwe connects to SEACOM and EASSy
Two Zimbabwean telecommunications companies have linked up to the SEACOM and EASSy undersea fibre-optic cables. This development is set to bring high speed broadband internet connectivity to the Southern African country and comes as a major boost to the country’s telecommunications backbone infrastructure.

The state owned fixed telephone network operator, Tel One, has invested US$ 7.7 million into the fibre-optic project which will link the capital Harare to Beira in Mozambique via the eastern border city of Mutare. The project will enable faster broadband internet, telephone connections and multimedia data transmission whilst making bandwidth cheaper.

Existing satellite links are expensive and have limited capacity for broadband services.  On the other hand, The Zimbabwe Stock exchange listed blue-chip company, Econet Wireless, has also announced that work has been completed on an international fibre extension linking its network with the SEACOM cable system landing in South Africa.

Douglas Mboweni, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe’s chief executive officer confirmed the latest development to Africa Investor, “Work on the fibre-optic network has been completed, and the network has a direct connection to the SEACOM cable in Durban, South Africa.”

However, he could not shed light on the exact amount of money the company has sunk into the project to date. But confirmed that the country’s biggest telecommunications company had awarded the US$66 million contract to carry out the connectivity to Chinese company Huawei Technologies.

Growth in the Zimbabwe ICT sector almost doubled to15.2 percent in 2009, from 8 percent in 2000, according to Finance Minister Tendai Biti.

An independent economist in Harare, Tonderai Mpala said that now that the fibre-optic is complete, it would increase the country’s gross domestic (GDP) by an average 1.4 percent.

Mpala said the new cable should substantially reduce the time it takes to seek out information online, the cost of making calls abroad, and the technical obstacles which small-scale businesses have faced in launching data-heavy websites.  He added: “Some experts also speculate that it could also boost activity in commodity and stock exchanges.”

Mapala also sees the benefits for rural entrepreneur. “A wider range of companies can establish them self in remote locations without sacrificing the ability to communicate. Few workers will have to leave the country side to find work, easing pressure on the already strained urban infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, ICT players were optimistic that the fibre-optic projects are likely to lure more investors in the country. Tapera Kurebwa an ICT expert told Africa investor: “The resulting drop in communication and internet connectivity costs will be a relief to many and will effectively make mobile and Internet communication available to more low income Zimbabweans who have so far been left out of such developments.”

“The linking to the undersea cable will almost certainly knock down prices although it must be pointed out that in the initial stages of the connectivity tariffs will be high owing to the need by these companies to return their investments. But in the long run, internet, and other telecommunications services which will be based on this linking will drastically fall down,” said Patrick Tsvetu, an ICT sector expert based in Harare.

And for agriculture, Tsvetu said this has traditionally meant the building of irrigation systems, of utilities, and of roads to markets.  Yet, in today’s world, a fast and reliable connection to information is also important for farmers.  He noted that variable weather patterns as a result of climate change mean that farmers need better meteorological information and planting advice. Increasingly globalised markets require up-to-date information on prices and regulations abroad.  And online marketing of crops can help cooperatives and other smaller-scale farm groups make more profit from the crops they grow.

The multi-million dollar projects are also poised to lure investors in the country’s fast growing ICT sector, which according to players, has vast opportunities for investment. In addition to bringing high speed broadband internet, the linking up to the SEACOM cable, is set to knock down internet connectivity tarrifs in the country, although existing subscribers of Econet’s internet service have complained of unreliability.

Econet says it has so far lain about 7500 kilometers of fibre-optic cables nationally and these mainly interconnect the country’s major cities and urban centers. However, the most significant step is that Econet has established a direct connection to the SEACOM undersea optic fibre cable in Durban and is ready to connect customers once given the green light by the regulatory authorities through Mozambique.

Meanwhile, the state owned fixed telephone network operator, Tel One, has also connected to the EASSy undersea fibre cable.

Currently, Zimbabwe uses the Mazowe satellite link for internet connectivity but this is said to be slow and expensive. Government officials have previously said that all the equipment required has already been delivered and that connection to the fiber optic undersea cable will be finalized before the end of this year.

According to Econect’s Mboweni, fibre-optic cabling has advantages over standard copper coaxial cables, in that it can transmit larger quantities of data with far less loss, is able to maintain signals over long distances, carries little risk of corrosion, and is virtually free from interference.

He said: “To provide customers with the services they demand we need a high-bandwidth, low-cost, reliable last-mile service”.

While presenting his national budget in December minister of finance Tendai Biti said the unity government was committed to improving the country’s infrastructure and growing the ICT sector. He also revealed that the government has made efforts to improve broadcasting transmission.

“In addition, an amount of US$1 million was availed to Transmedia for the construction of new base stations,” he said. “This should enhance reception of broadcasting services across the country.”

Transmedia is a state-controlled company that builds and maintains broadcasting transmission infrastructure.

Minister of technology, Nelson Chamisa, said the fibre-optic cable network rollout programme would have an operational capacity of 10Gbps which he claimed would take ‘up to five decades’ to exhaust in terms of demand.

By Stanley Karombo

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