Q&A: Alcatel-Lucent’s Executive Vice President on WACS

The West African Cable System (WACS), linking Southern and Western Africa to Europe, was launched in Cape Town on 11 May and officially went live at 12 noon.

Bert Stangl, Executive Vice President, Project & CFO of Submarines at Alcatel-Lucent. (Image: WACS)

Driven by a coalition of fourteen investors, suppliers and network operators, the $650 million investment project is the first direct submarine fibre optic cable system in West Africa to connect and supply enhanced bandwidth to Namibia, Tongo, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

IT News Africa caught up with Bert Stangl, Executive Vice President, Project & CFO of Submarines at Alcatel-Lucent, the turnkey supplier of cabling and submarine infrastructure to the project.

1. Please describe the project and Alcatel-Lucent’s involvement.

This project has been two years in the running, but experienced some delays. It is necessary to have permits and these delays were as a result of acquiring the necessary permits for laying cables and for the landing stations. It is now ready. We actually noted pre-World Cup that traffic routes and capacity would not be enough – so this project will boost capacity locally.

2. What is involved in laying the cables? 

First we have to do a route survey of region. Ships armed with sonar conduct the surveys and using doplar signal simulation, provide data analysis of corridors of 500 metres. This data is then verified with the services of a survey company. This data verifies the sea bed and the entire route to be cabled.

3. What kind of cable is involved?

These are fibre-optic cables, with varying amounts of steel. The amount of steel determines the type of cable used. It also includes copper which is used to power the cables. We also lay what are called optical amplifiers which are used to reinforce the light through the cables. Each amplifier is three meters in length and weigh half a ton. These cables are manufactured in France. The WACS project covers 14,500KM of cable with 236 optical amplifiers.

4. How are the cables laid? 

We use ships that start off-shore along the planned route. They can manoeuvre 360 degrees and are used to plough the cables. In much the same fashion as on land, the cables are ploughed 2meters into the sea-bed. Aspects like reefs and marine life is always taken into consideration.

The ship uses GPS coordination and computer data to ensure the accurate laying of cables. For the WACS project, in deep sea, we laid between 100 and 150km of cable per day and 10km per day in shallow waters. In total it was one-year of marine operation using two ships, powered by electric engines, that worked in parallel.

Chris Tredger