It has been six years since MTN boldly pioneered and committed over US$100 million into Africa's largest capacity submarine fibre-optic cable. Today (11 May) marked the commercial launch of the much-anticipated ultra high-capacity West Africa Cable System (WACS) linking Southern and Western Africa to Europe.
The 17 200km fibre-optic submarine cable system will effectively raise South Africa's current broadband capacity by more than 500 Gigabits per second (Gbps). This will be a much-needed boost to MTN in South Africa, where consumer appetite for data quadrupled during 2011, with data consumption (excl SMS) up by approximately 200% year-on-year. In the same period, smartphone usage increased by 128% to 3.6 million users, while data users soared to 10.9 million.
WACS spans the west coast of Africa, starting at Yzerfontein near Cape Town, South Africa and terminating in the United Kingdom. The system will enable MTN operations to enjoy seamless connectivity into the rest of Europe and the Americas. The four-fibre pair system was constructed at an approximate total project cost of US$650 million.
MTN's Global Carrier Services' Commercial Relations Lead for the WACS Consortium, Trevor Martins, says MTN identified that the most efficient manner to advance the initiative to construct the WACS system was through a collaborative infrastructure co-build consortium investment model of likeminded operators.
“It was critical for MTN to ensure direct access into its markets in West Africa, and linking efficient system design with multiple landing points. Accordingly, WACS has 15 established terminal stations along its route, including Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Republic of Congo and Namibia – all countries where MTN has a presence.”
Martins adds: “MTN is the largest investor in WACS, with commitments in excess of US$100 million, comprising US$90 million system capital contribution and additional capital investments towards the construction of cable landing facilities in Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire.”
MTN's investment in WACS forms part of the group's global portfolio of submarine cable investments, managed by MTN Dubai Global Carrier Services. In addition to complementing other existing cable systems in the region, as well as supply first-time fibre connectivity to several West African countries, WACS will provide much-needed diversity for large volume broadband traffic from South Africa to Europe.
“The impact of MTN's investments in Africa is far-reaching,” says Kanaragaratnam Lambotharan, Chief Technology Officer at MTN South Africa. As a forward-thinking organisation, the MTN Group had realised early on that investing in WACS would bring much-needed cost-effective broadband capacity to the continent, bolstering Africa's efforts to achieve the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals with its objective of bridging the digital divide by enabling millions of Africa's populace to be part of the digital age. As the pre-eminent African operator, MTN is excited about the prospects brought by the launch of the cable to our markets. MTN's ownership of WACS, together with our considerable interest in EASSy (Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System) will provide MTN with critical route diversity to Europe, from both sides of the continent. This will ensure a unique offering of increased resilience and unsurpassed availability of broadband connectivity to MTN customers.”
Lambotharan adds that Africa has until now been a pedestrian on the information superhighway. “However, MTN's investment in WACS will now ensure that millions of our customers can speed along the global information superhighway by accessing huge capacities with the ability to optimally utilise data and telemetry offerings which modern telephony applications provide.”
Martins says MTN's investment in WACS is designed to support present and future demands for high speed Internet, e-commerce, data ICT, cloud, video and voice services. “This is achieved as the WACS cable employs Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) technology, which enables bidirectional communications over one strand of fibre, as well as enhancement of capacity. Also, due to the robustness of the design, the cable system can incorporate future developments in submarine fibre-optic technology.”
The commercialisation of WACS and our other submarine cables will set the stage for a mobile revolution that will enhance the quality of life for millions of people across the continent. In South Africa, MTN's terrestrial segment of WACS was completed in April this year, with a total provisioned capacity of 60GB. The MTN terrestrial optical network consists of leading telecommunications technology with DWDM and ASON (Automatic Switch Optical Network) at its core, providing high availability, on-demand bandwidth provision and service restoration.
“Broadband has immense potential to change the socio-economic landscape of African countries,” says Michael Ikpoki, CEO of MTN Ghana. “Over the last year, our operations in West Africa have experienced a good growth in data volumes, and this trend is repeated throughout our other operations across the continent. This is a strong indication of the huge latent demand for access to quality broadband services and facilities throughout Africa. The introduction of WACS will address both technological shortfalls experienced by most of Africa's disadvantaged communities, and stimulate economic growth in those countries.”
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WACS is a four-fibre pair cable system directly linking South Africa (SA) to a London-based POP (point of presence). It has 15 established terminal stations along its route, which include South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cape Verde, Canary Island, Portugal, and the POP in London. Alongside the MTN Group, the WACS Consortium members include Angola Cables; Broadband Infraco; Cable&Wireless Worldwide; Congo Telecom; Société Congolaise des Postes et Télécommunications (“SCPT”); PT COMUNICAÇÕES; Togo Telecom; Tata Communications; Telecom Namibia; Telkom SA; and Vodacom Group. All members of the consortium signed the Construction and Maintenance Agreement (C&MA) and Supply Contract on 8 April 2009. The Supply Contract came into force on 25 May 2009.
The MTN Group
Launched in 1994, the MTN Group is a multinational telecommunications group, operating in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The MTN Group is listed on the JSE Securities Exchange in South Africa under the share code: “MTN”. As of 31 March 2012, MTN recorded 170.5 million subscribers across its operations in Afghanistan, Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Cyprus, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Republic, Iran, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville), Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia. Visit MTN at www.mtn.com and www.mtnfootball.com.