South Africa is on track to gain access to another undersea cable, with leading telecommunications operators yesterday signing the West Africa Cable System (WACS) into reality.

The companies – including Angola Telecom, Broadband Infraco, Cable & Wireless, MTN, Telecom Namibia, Tata Communications (Neotel), Portugal Telecom, Sotelco, Togo Telecom, Telkom SA and Vodacom Group – signed a construction and maintenance agreement (C&MA) and supply contract for the implementation of the new cable.
WACS is a 3.84 terabit per second submarine fibre optic cable that will link countries in southern Africa, western Africa and Europe, with high capacity international bandwidth.
Planned landing points include South Africa, Namibia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Republic of Congo, Canary Islands, Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Cape Verde, Portugal and the UK.
The landings in Namibia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo and Togo will provide the first connections for these countries to a global submarine cable network.
Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks has been contracted to supply the 14 000 km long cable system with all associated landing points, which is expected to be ready for service by early 2011.
Costing about $600-million, the project has brought together a multitude of nations and some of the world's most influential telecommunications players in a joint effort to use state-of-the-art technology in linking more people more efficiently than ever before.
Pieter Uys, CEO of Vodacom Group and chairman of the WACS steering committee, comments: "The West Africa Cable System represents a significant telecommunications infrastructure investment through a joint effort of a number of African and Global operators and will have ample capacity to serve the region's international connectivity needs for many years to come.
"WACS will provide Africa with faster and better connectivity to Europe and the rest of the world."
The new cable sets the scene for total international bandwidth capacity coming into Africa growing more than a hundredfold by the end of 2011.
The Internet Access in South Africa 2008 study, conducted by World Wide Worx and supported by Cisco Systems, shows that international bandwidth available to sub-Saharan Africa was a mere 80 Gigabits per second at the end of 2008. This was split between the Telkom-controlled SAT3/SAFE cable and the West African Atlantis-2 cable.
But, according to the report, the capacity will rise to around 10 Terabits per second by the end of 2011, or 120 times the 208 capacity. This growth will be the cumulative result of the existing SAT3 cable being upgraded, three major new cables becoming operational this year, another two in 2010, and the WACS cable in 2011.
These figures exclude capacity available to North African countries that have access to a network of cables criss-crossing the Mediterranean.
Reshaad Sha, senior manager of Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group: "It is encouraging to witness and be part of the telecommunications revolution that Africa is currently undergoing. The role that the undersea cable operators will play is crucial to both the developmental and economic agendas that have and are being set by African governments."
The confirmed new cables due to serve West, East and Southern Africa are:
* Seacome – east and southern Africa, 1.28Tbps, due end June 2009;
* GLO-1, west Africa, 640Gbps, ready for operations in 2009;
* TEAMS, east and southern Africa, 120Gbps, due September 2009;
* EASSy, east and southern Africa, 1Tbps, due June 2010;
* MainOne, west Africa, 1.92Tbps, due 2010; and
* WACS, west and southern Africa, 3.8Tbps, due 2011.
"The WACS agreement puts in place the final spark for the broadband revolution that is about to sweep Africa," says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx. "The real significance of all these undersea cables is that they will in turn lead to further infrastructure expansion to bring this bandwidth to end-users, especially in the business world."
Neotel, South Africa's second network operator, is participating in the WACS consortium, giving it a stake in four cable systems: SAT3, EASSy, Seacom and WACS.
Neotel will land the Seacom cable, which is expected to come on line later this month.