Recent outages highlight importance of undersea cables to South Africa and across the rest of the continent

Image of BT South Africa country host Bertrandt Delport

BERTRANDT DELPORT The economic boost provided by the network augments the nation's gross domestic product, facilitating the burgeoning digital economy

6th October 2023

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The recent outages experienced across some of the undersea Internet cables connecting Africa to the world have highlighted the need for network resilience and the importance of these systems to South Africa and across the rest of the continent.

On August 6, a rockfall in the Congo Canyon caused breaks in the West Africa Cable System and South Atlantic Telecommunications cable No 3 (SAT-3) subsea cables, with further media reports subsequently reporting another break on the Africa Coast to Europe subsea cable.

This resulted in slow Internet connectivity until repairs were completed early last month.

“The importance of these cables for South Africa and the entire continent cannot be overstated. Acting as the continent’s digital arteries, they represent crucial entry points into the region,” says BT South Africa country host Bertrandt Delport, noting that South Africa’s undersea cable network is an indispensable digital lifeline, tethering the country to the global digital community.

Processing terabytes of data daily across many sectors, including mining, finance, healthcare, entertainment and e-commerce, besides others, this connectivity stimulates trade, promotes information exchange and fosters international research and development collaborations, he states.

“The economic boost provided by the network augments the nation’s gross domestic product, facilitating the burgeoning digital economy,” says Delport, adding that about 80% of Africa’s Internet traffic moves through South Africa, underscoring its key role as a digital beacon for the continent.

“However, with such pivotal infrastructure comes inherent risks: challenges to connectivity reliability, potential lengthy downtime affecting service quality and reputational hazards arising from adverse customer experiences,” he continues.

Forward-thinking approaches have manifested in investments in key undersea cable consortia, pivotal for global communication and data relay, he said, highlighting the SAT-3/West African Submarine Cable, South Africa Far East and Eastern Africa Submarine System (EASSy) cables, enhancing connectivity between Europe, Africa and Asia.

Further, capacity swaps with strategic partners have augmented its global communication network, he says.

While BT’s initial strategic investments in African undersea cables can be traced back to the 2010 EASSy initiative, the company’s modus operandi has evolved, with the company now capitalising on capacity trades with strategic allies, reciprocating with assets in regions where BT has “formidable stakes”.

A burgeoning competitive landscape augments both capacity and affordability and the recent unveiling of new cables, such as 2Africa by Meta and Equiano by Google, heralds a new era for African connectivity.

“The myriad advantages of strategic subsea cable partnerships encompass enhanced resilience, geographical diversity, elevated reliability, reduced downtime and expansive global reach.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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