Fast new Internet link slow in reaching African users – Yahoo! Canada News

September 21st, 2009

Fast new Internet link slow in reaching African users – Yahoo! Canada News

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Thu Jul 30, 12:12 PM

MAPUTO (AFP) – Ken Sas wages a weekly battle at a Mozambican Internet cafe to get online, despite cripplingly slow connections that leave him dozing as pages load.

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“You can see, I try to click on the link but it’s not coming fast. It’s quite slow,” the Zambian national complains. “Then I have to purchase more time and it costs me another 25 meticals (about one dollar).”

That should change soon, after the first broadband Internet link on Africa’s east coast went live one week ago, linking a dozen countries to Europe and India with a fibre-optic cable that promises to lower costs and dramatically boost speeds.

Mauritius-based company SEACOM promises to revolutionise communications in Africa and lower bandwidth costs by up to 90 percent, after switching on the cable that resulted from a two-year, 600-million-dollar (427-million-euro) effort.

Countries like Kenya and Uganda can now experience broadband connections for the first time, while others like South Africa — which already has high-speed Internet — expect the new cable to lower costs by boosting competition.

But many end users will have to wait to see the benefits.

In fact, many don’t know SEACOM exists.

At the Teledata Internet cafe, employee Zacarias Tovela said SEACOM hadn’t changed web surfing there yet.

“I know there’s a new service called SEACOM, but I don’t know if we’re connected to it or not,” he said.

SEACOM spokesman Frederic Cornet said the company sells bandwidth wholesale to local service providers, who until now have relied on slower, costlier satellite connections.

“We truly hope that it’s only a matter of time before they start sharing the cost savings with the end users,” Cornet said.

The new cable will also boost telephone service in countries where international calls can be a shout in the dark.

“Voice delays in phone conversations and spending a long time to download data is an order of the day in many African countries,” said Lindsay McDonald, telecoms analyst at Frost & Sullivan business consultancy in South Africa.

In South Africa, the presence of high capacity bandwidth is expected to increase the business like intercontinental call centers and other business process outsourcing.

“Companies doing business in some African countries are mostly making the use of VSat for communication, which is very costly and unreliable,” said McDonald.

SEACOM says land-based infrastructure is being rolled out in most countries along the coast to distribute the new network to users along the length of the continent.

“African countries have for a long time been paying high fees for poor Internet bandwidth and mobile connectivity,” said Dobek Pater, an analyst at Africa Analysis, an information technology consultancy.

“We are not going to witness a sudden drop in prices, adjustments are likely to unfold in a year’s time, depending on the reaction of service providers in different countries,” he said.

Rajay Ambeker, telecoms analyst at Prudentia expects broadband prices in South Africa to drop by at least 90 percent from the current prices.

“The new technology is going to increase competition and lower prices among the few service providers we have here,” said Ambeker. “This is a dynamic change for the continent.”

Meanwhile, ordinary users hope the benefits will start arriving soon.

Orray Carlos, owner of Internet Express cafe in Maputo, laughed as he watched his connection speed bounce anaemically around one megabyte per second. SEACOM promises speeds of 1.2 terabytes per second — one million times faster.

“The person would just click,” he said, “and there it would be.”

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