NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 13 – Repairs on The East African Marine System (TEAMS) fibre optic cable are set to commence in the next 10 days, about a month after it was accidentally cut off by a ship’s anchor in Mombasa.
Safaricom Director of Corporate Affairs Nzioka Waita said the repairs are expected to take at least four days, under the supervision of eMarine, the contracted TEAMS cable maintenance company.
“eMarine have a ship in transit to Kenya. The repair work should start around the 22nd of March and so far there’s nothing to suggest we’re off track,” he said.
Local data customers began experiencing service degradation after a ship docking four kilometres from the Mombasa landing station dragged its anchor on the cable, leading to the subsequent cut in late February.
Safaricom Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore said although the repairs have taken longer than the three-week time frame that was earlier anticipated, he expects the cable to go live within the next three weeks.
However, he added re-routing the firm’s Internet traffic, now feeding from alternative capacity in the SEACOM and EASSy cables, has taken a financial toll on the company especially since retail pricing has remained the same.
“Service is running properly now, it’s just running expensively because we’re having to route traffic on alternative routes or up on satellite; so it’s costing us a lot more than it did before,” Collymore revealed.
He spoke while engaging local journalists on the data market, which could face major expansion roadblocks if plans to migrate Kenya’s broadcasting to a digital platform are not realised by July this year as targeted.
The recent admission by the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) that the country will miss the June 30 digital migration deadline has mobile operators on edge, with concerns that the delay will hinder further data penetration in the country.
Data operators want broadcasters to migrate to a digital platform as the move would lead to an expanded frequency spectrum, which will in turn allow more data players into the market.
“The spectrum that is ideal for LTE is the 700 MHz spectrum which is currently held by broadcasters. As soon as broadcasters move from their analogue into digital this frees up almost 100MHz of this spectrum,” Waita said.
The government invited the private sector to partner in Long Term Evolution (LTE) deployment last year, in a bid to benefit smaller ISPs (Internet service providers) and further reduce connectivity costs.
The partnership initiative calls for LTE deployment through an open-access model, where small and big operators will be able to use infrastructure without worrying about spectrum fees and high capital expenditures during rollout.
The government called on companies that had tier-one network operator status, 20 percent Kenyan ownership and capability of rolling out a countrywide network within a year.
Waita further commented that despite the delay in meeting the migration deadline, mobile operators would continue to lobby the communications regulator to fast track the process.
“We want the broadcasters out as quickly as possible and we want the policy from the regulator as to whether they will auction that spectrum, give it to us or go with the wholesale PPP model the Ministry (Information) is proposing,” he said.
President Mwai Kibaki launched the digital broadcasting rollout in December 2009, with the ambitious target for the country to fully migrate by June 2012 ahead of the global deadline of 2015.