Fat cable lands in Tunisia

At the AfricaCom conference in Cape Town last month, it was apparent that major operators across the continent are looking more to data and other value-added services to stimulate future expansion. But the prospects for data services in Africa rest in part on the promise that the new submarine cables that are arriving on the shores of the continent will both improve the availability of international bandwidth and reduce its cost.

This week Tunisie Telecom landed the first 100 per cent African-owned subsea cable in Tunisia. Dubbed “Hannibal”, in honour of the Carthaginian general who sailed from ancient Tunisia to conquer Italy, the new cable connects North Africa to Interoute’s pan European next-generation network, via Interoute’s landing station in Sicily.

The cable provides Tunisia with an additional route to the Sea-Me-We-4 and Keltra submarine cables, providing a more secure and reliable international network for Tunisie Telecom.

Network operator Interoute said that the cable has a total capacity of 3.2Tbps – more than seven times greater than that of the consortium owned SEA-ME-WE-4 cable that had been serving Tunisia previously and will enable Tunisia to act as the internet hub for neighbouring North African countries.

Figures from Informa Telecoms & Media show that data revenues in Africa increased 13 per cent in the second quarter of 2009 to reach over $1bn. But we’re not talking about mobile broadband or YouTube here, it was also clear that data services have to provide timely and relevant content and information to the region’s subscribers.

A good example of this is Safaricom’s m-pesa initiative in Kenya, which analysts agree has shown the way in mobile banking, as a revenue generator as well as a customer retention tool.

And it is the dynamism of the market that will see more exciting and interesting data services rolled out as more bandwidth becomes available. Speaking at the opening keynote session of the Africa Com event, Themba Khumalo, CEO of MTN Uganda, said that there is increased access to bandwidth in the country because of the landing of submarine cables such as EASSy on the continent. “Prices will come down so we will have to look at our own business model and price ourselves correctly. Data is a key area of concentration, we need to deliver value and great experience,” said Khumalo. “While we still need to maintain expensive connections from satellite for some time, customers will eventually see reduction in tariffs, as attractive pricing from other developed markets is coming in.”

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