With only three of the 10 undersea cables that connect South Africa to the world still in operation, it is quite remarkable that the region remains as well connected as it is.

This is the view of Edward Lawrence of the Workonline Group, who says: “The cable breaks on both sides of the continent have highlighted the issue of the lack of capacity to support Africa’s burgeoning internet requirements. There are 574 active and planned submarine cables across the globe, yet South Africa only has 10 that connect it to the rest of the world, and seven of these are currently out of action.”

In February 2024, three vital cables – AAE-1, EIG, and Seacom – connecting the east coast of Africa to Europe were disrupted, allegedly due to vandalism in the Red Sea. Then, on 14 March 2024, four out of the five west coast cables – SAT3, WACS, ACE, and MainOne – were affected, reportedly by an undersea rock fall near Ivory Coast.

These incidents have significantly impacted internet connectivity, not only in South Africa but across the entire continent.

The capacity constraints are further complicated by the time it takes to not only repair submarine cables, but also to lay new infrastructure. Lawrence explains that it can take 18 months or longer to plan for new cables, and a further two years or more to actually build and commission them.

“We’re fortunate that due to our investment in Africa and abroad we are able to be more nimble than most and can increase our undersea capacity at speed,” says Lawrence. “We’ve designed our network to be as resilient as possible, acquiring capacity on the most stable routes we can find. Incremental capacity, or augments as they are referred to, require us to acquire hundreds of Gbps of capacity at a time, so we rely on our deep relationships which we’ve developed across the industry.”

CMC Networks is addressing the challenge by adding Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellite connectivity to its portfolio of solutions.

This multi-orbit approach addresses the diverse connectivity needs of remote regions and challenging environments across Africa and the Middle East, removing the limits on digital transformation.

CMC Networks’ satellite solutions enable wide-reaching, high-performance and resilient networking, using constellations from world-leading providers. The distributed nature of the constellations adds redundancy and minimises downtime on customers’ networks, improving business continuity and enhancing user experiences, reducing the reliance on subsea cable infrastructure.

“Our goal at CMC Networks is to accelerate digital transformation across Africa and the Middle East, no matter the location. With the addition of LEO, MEO and GEO satellite solutions, we can provide seamless connectivity across geographies and during network and power outages,” says Marisa Trisolino, CEO at CMC Networks.

“The recent damage to subsea cables and the subsequent disruption to businesses across South Africa has highlighted the need for a wide variety of connectivity options and digital infrastructure that has the resiliency to ensure business continuity during unforeseen events. Our satellite solutions enable service providers and enterprises to manage risk and maximise uptime.”

CMC Networks’ LEO satellites sit just over 1 000km above the Earth’s surface, providing ultra-low latency connectivity for a primary or backup connectivity solution, and consumer Internet use cases such as high-frequency trading, high-performance computing applications and more, with a round-trip delay (RTD) of +-80ms.

The MEO satellites have an altitude of 8 000km, with 150ms low latency connectivity and a larger Earth view. This provides fibre-like broadband performance for enterprise-grade networking.

The GEO satellites orbit 36 000km from Earth, maintaining a fixed position. These satellites provide reliable connectivity for less-latency-sensitive applications and services such as broadcast TV and low-speed data communication.

“Recent outages show that service providers and enterprises need diverse connectivity options. Networking is mission critical and networking strategies must include multiple backup connectivity that can be delivered with a simple and seamless model,” says Geoff Dornan, chief technology officer at CMC Networks.

“Our network supports a wide range of LEO, MEO and GEO use cases across Africa and the Middle East which is a real value-add for customers looking to add additional redundancy to their networks. You can’t predict what will happen across your network, but you can be proactive and prepare to adapt.”