Despite developments on international subsea infrastructure, reliable and affordable data connectivity issues continue to plague Africa, with internet penetration only increasing in recent years largely due to the roll out of mobile networks, pan-African telecoms company Seacom says.
Sixteen of 55 African countries are landlocked, posing challenges in extending the high-speed capabilities of subsea cable systems onto reliable terrestrial fibre cables that connect both to key cities that are not on the coast as well getting reliable fibre connectivity through coastal countries into landlocked markets, Seacom CEO Byron Clatterbuck said in a column on the future of subsea cable connectivity on the continent.
"Road and rail access to inland areas of Africa is only just developing in many parts of the continent (and) it is easy to understand the challenges this puts on constructing and operating basic fibre-based data connectivity," he said.
"To exacerbate this challenge further, the state of reliable power availability and security of infrastructure at remote sites is often below international standards. "
He said subsea fibre optic cables remained Africa’s lifeline and were the catalyst for further development of long-haul terrestrial and metro fibre deployment; increasing the continent’s integration with the world and enhancing its competitiveness in the fourth industrial revolution by providing faster and cheaper internet access.
The current handful of subsea cable systems were ageing and would not meet future demand beyond the next few years, Clatterbuck said.
"In order to mitigate these risks, Africa needs several more high-capacity and diverse subsea cable systems that would complement existing cables and allow for the automatic rerouting of traffic in case of cable cuts or outages," he said.
"This allows African data providers to deploy “meshed networks” that allow for multiple linear paths that are all carrying active traffic, which means that, if one path is impacted, the overall network remains functioning with limited impact to customer traffic."
The future of subsea cables would require a huge investment in infrastructure in order to develop Africa’s economies and much-needed communications networks, said Clatterbuck.
"More capacity, more diverse routing and generally more options in subsea infrastructure can kickstart other investments which will further contribute to the continent’s economies," he said.
"Subsea cable systems have proven to be the core mechanism for the high-speed data exchanges so fundamental to operations today, and that isn’t changing anytime soon."