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Optimism for Cheaper, Faster Internet
[September 30, 2014]

Optimism for Cheaper, Faster Internet


(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) More optic fibre cables expected to push down internet prices.

For the poor in countries like Uganda, broadband Internet is looked at as a 'luxury' reserved for the rich. Indeed, the market price of one megabyte (MB) per second of broadband internet averages at $2,500-$5,000 (about Shs 5 million - Shs10 million) in East Africa. However, Byron Clatterbuck, the chief commercial officer of sea cable operators SEACOM, is optimistic that more Ugandans stand a chance to access internet at more affordable rates; thanks to the increasing number of internet service providers (ISPs) and reliable optic fibre cables.



SEACOM's initial offer to Uganda is between $50 and $100 (about Shs 130, 000 and Shs 260, 000) MB/s, depending on the volumes of bandwidth bought.

Established in 2007 by a group of African investors with the aim of bringing the global internet to Africa, SEACOM is operating the first broadband submarine cable system along the East African coastline linking South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Mozambique with major internet connection hubs in Europe and Asia.


On Sept. 3, the company launched a new Point of Presence (PoP) in Kampala, Uganda, in a move to respond to the growing demand for reliable services in the land-locked country. Clatterbuck said SEACOM's new PoP aims to provide Ugandan operators and service providers with access to high-quality and reliable services at affordable prices. Some of the many benefits to customers in Uganda include; access to capacity on multiple submarine cables and protected backhaul all the way from Kampala to Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast.

With the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) giving its clearance to SEACOM Uganda Ltd by issuing the Public Infrastructure Provider licenses, SEACOM will offer a full array of telecom services in Uganda and unleash their associated benefits to Ugandan network operators and service providers, Clatterbuck said. The deployment of the PoPs will further enable onward access to other neighboring countries such as Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan.

"Our new license will help bring more global connectivity to Uganda while improving the quality of the broadband experience for Ugandans," said Clatterbuck.

One of its PoPs is deployed at Airtel House in Kampala while the other location is yet to be confirmed. The PoPs will be directly connected through ring-switched backhaul links through Nairobi to Mombasa and then onto the SEACOM international subsea cable network.

Through these connections, Uganda will have more direct and resilient access to global communications interconnection points and the global internet. Officials said the deployment of the two PoPs would improve internet access for Ugandans by 50%- enabling users to access popular content such as video, music and software updates through SEACOM's partnerships with global content development networks such as Level 3, Akamai and others.

"Ugandan operators and service providers will benefit from our highly resilient and redundant submarine cables with immediate effect," Clatterbuck said, adding that they will be able to rapidly activate services and upgrades through their flexible and scalable network platforms. The result will be a better quality of service for end-customers. Industry experts say Uganda's low internet penetration rates (currently at below 10%) affects the opportunities for growth for service providers. Roger Sekaziga, the CEO at Roke Telkom, said bandwidth prices would continue to drop as uptake increases.

Sekaziga said bandwidth price points are low in Kenya because of their proximity to the undersea global cables, whereas in Uganda the prices are pushed up by the terrestrial segment between Mombasa or Dar es Salaam to Kampala. "Connectivity and communication are the fabric of modern society," Sekaziga said, "We are positive that as prices come down and investments in infrastructure grow deeper we will see robust growth in internet usage and penetration." Apart from SEACOM, Google Link, Eassy and TEAMS are among other undersea fibre cables that are expected to revolutionalise internet usage and access in Uganda.

Additionally, the government is spearheading the development of the $100 million National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) and the Electronic Government Infrastructure (EGI) to complement private sector initiatives to relieve the acute shortage of bandwidth in the country.

Experts are optimistic that with more internet cable providers connecting into Uganda, internet would definitely become not just more affordable and accessible but also more reliable, according to Peter Kahiigi, the director for technical services at National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U). He was positive that new players such as SEACOM would ensure that Uganda has an alternative route to tackle the challenge of disruption to the cables. Patrick Mwesigwa, the acting executive director at the UCC, was also optimistic that SEACOM would influence the reduction in the price of the internet because of more competition.

Nyombi Thembo, the state minister for ICT, said Uganda has one of the highest ICT Human Capital Index in Africa making it an attractive investment destination for ICT companies. He said this is good as the digital content industry has vast potential as a major contributor to our economy and society through employment creation, capital investment, provision of skills and capabilities to traditional as well as new and emerging industry sectors. According to data from the UCC, Uganda's internet users as of June, 2013 stood at seven million out of an estimated 34 million people, which is less than half the number of mobile phone subscribers. The UCC believes the numbers would drastically improve over time.

Copyright The Independent. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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