Unlimited, high speed bandwidth on the way

February 21, 2012
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Information and Communication Minister Samuel Poghisio/FILE

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 21 – NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 21 – Kenyans are set to start enjoying unlimited, high speed bandwidth, once the fourth submarine cable – the Lower Indian Ocean Network (LION2) – goes live in the next two months.

Telkom Kenya, which is one of the subsidiaries involved in laying the cable through its parent company, France Telecom has disclosed that the cable arrived in Nyali, Mombasa in December 2011 and is currently awaiting connection.

“Progress on LION 2 is on target. This submarine cable was scheduled to arrive on the shores of Mombasa in December (2011) and this did happen. At the moment we are completing work at the landing station in Mombasa and preparing for commercialisation of the cable in April 2012 – on schedule as per our timings given,” Telkom’s Chief Corporate Communications Officer Angela Ng’ang’a- Mumo said in response to queries by Capital Business.

The LION2 cable is 3,000 kilometre-long line that will be extended to Nyali via the island of Mayotte located in the northern Mozambique Channel from Mauritius. The cable is funded by France Telecom and its subsidiaries.

It is part of a bigger project by France Telecom and 12 members of the Lower Indian Ocean Network to build a submarine cable linking Madagascar to the rest of the world via Réunion Island and Mauritius as agreed upon in September 2010.

The construction of the 1.28 terabits per second capacity cable is expected to cost approximately Sh6.2 billion or 56.5 million euros and once it is switched on will provide Kenya with an alternative route for secure broadband transmissions. Kenya already enjoys connectivity through The East African Marine System (TEAMS), the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and SEACOM.

It will also supplement Telkom’s existing fibre infrastructure on TEAMS and EASSy.

“As it were, we already offer the most reliable broadband speeds in the country. This additional capacity will further enhance our positioning as data leaders and assure our customers of continued infrastructure support in line with their increasing business requirements,” the communications officer emphasised.

Commenting on the progress, Information Minister Samuel Poghisio exuded confidence that once it is switched on, LION2 would intensify competition in the industry and help further lower Internet connectivity charges.

“With the (arrival of the) fourth cable, I’m sure that prices will come down because competition brings the kind of business climate that requires that (consumers) buy from the lowest bidder,” he said.

In addition, Kenyan schools and remote areas are expected to be major beneficiaries as they will be digitally connected and to play a major role in spurring the creation of local content in the country.

“You will see more connectivity to homes in the big cities and schools particularly those in the rural areas,” he projected adding that such developments would reinforce Kenya’s position as the regional ICT hub.

Kenya ICT Consumers Association chairman Alex Gakuru foresees the entry of the cable forcing a re-alignment in the ICT landscape through the disruption of distribution networks and the provision of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) with more choices.

In addition, the national inland fibre network owned by Telkom Kenya is bound to give it a competitive edge amongst the 17 licensed Unified License Framework operators, placing it in a better position to offer the best ‘deals’.

He however remains cautiously optimist that the benefits will be passed on to the end-users arguing that only large corporates will gain.

“Whereas welcome, the imminent competition at service providers’ level, broadband prices shall fall – but only inter-providers for large corporations, if experienced past internet market failure is anything to go by,” Gakuru explained.

While increased capacity portends more business opportunities, he has challenged the government to guarantee lowered Internet prices.

“The ministry must act with speed to unlock the vast business and economic opportunities and societal development all held hostage by giant telecoms companies persistent refusal to pass costs savings to educated, innovative youth and eager internet consumers,” he urged.

The government has in the past threatened to regulate the Internet charges as service providers continue to make obscene profits from the high cost of bandwidth despite the operationalisation of the fibre optic cables.

The cost of one megabyte of bandwidth locally has gone down from highs of $4,000-$6000 two years ago to the current $500. However, the charges are still way above the government’s target of Sh15,000 per megabyte.

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