Cape Town - South Africa and Africa are on the brink of an internet revolution in which millions of people – from small businesses to ordinary cellphone users – will be hooked up to what one technology expert has called “the single largest source of international connectivity on the continent”.
And experts, politicians and business agree that the multi-billion-rand West African Cable system (Wacs), which will link the continent to Europe, means more bandwidth, which will translate into cheaper data costs. South Africa currently ranks among the most expensive countries for data.
Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be carried from one point to another in a given period, usually a second.
On Tuesday, the ultra-high-capacity Wacs landed at Yzerfontein and will be operational by next year. The cable has 15 established terminal stations and will reduce the cost to connect Africa’s west coast to the high-speed global telecommunications network.
Businesses have been demanding increased bandwidth, calling slower, more costly bandwidth a major constraint to growth.
Information technology and communication expert and managing director of World Wide Worx, Arthur Goldstuck, said the cable would make a major impact on competition and cost, and would enhance business.
“Businesses large and small have been hampered not so much by the lack of bandwidth, as by the high cost of available bandwidth and the inflexible nature of the bandwidth offerings available to them.
“Once the new cable is operational, it will be one of four major cables serving South Africa, and bandwidth shortages, outages and affordability issues should be a thing of the past. Businesses will be able to run far more operations and activities online, online collaboration will be enhanced, teleconferencing will become mainstream, and cloud computing will become viable.”
For consumers generally, Goldstuck said: “Since it is a partnership between a number of major operators, including Telkom, Neotel, MTN and Vodacom, the era of dependency by one major operator on another is over. This, in turn, means that all have equal access to the single largest source of international connectivity on the continent.
“Secondly, the more availability of bandwidth, and the more operators able to provide that bandwidth to the end user, the further prices must fall.”
The 14 000km fibre optic submarine cable system will raise South Africa’s broadband capacity by more than 500 gigabytes a second.
A consortium of all the major telecommunications roleplayers in South Africa and a number of west African countries pumped $650 million (R4.4bn) into the project.
From Yzerfontein the cable, which starts in Britain, will be connected to Johannesburg. Already construction companies have begun digging a trench in Johannesburg along the N1 down to the Cape.
Viola Manual, the chief executive of the Regional Cape Chamber of Business, said increased bandwidth meant many businesses that relied heavily on bandwidth would be able to expand, which would lead to more jobs. Manual said the chamber would be gearing itself up to show businesses how to take advantage of the increased bandwidth.
Economic Development and Tourism MEC, Alan Winde, said businesses often cited a lack of bandwidth as one of the main constraints for growth.
“A World Bank study has found that for every 10 percent increase in broadband penetration, developing economies grow by 1.38 percent. Our businesses have identified the high cost and low quality of broadband as a primary constraint to growth and development in the regional economy. That is why it is very important we bring all the people of the Western Cape, especially aspiring business people, into the digital age.
“This will help them to be more productive, and more competitive with other regions, resulting in growth and jobs for the region. Incidentally, in the coming year we will kick-start a telecommunications infrastructure project that will significantly increase our connectivity with the world.
“This project falls under the department’s Cape Catalyst programme and is directly in line with our first strategic objective of growing the economy and creating jobs,” Winde said.
The Wacs Consortium’s South African members are Broadband Infraco, MTN, Telkom, Neotel and Vodacom. - Cape Argus