Submarine Fiber Optic Route to Somalia

by Osman Dahir Osman
Thursday, September 27, 2007


The Eastern Africa Submarine System (EASSY)


Landing Station

The Eastern African Submarine System was proposed in 2003 with the main goals of improving the quality of telecommunication services and reducing cost of bandwidth in Eastern African countries. The project is being developed by fifteen telecommunication companies from thirteen East African countries. The fiber optic cable project is expected to run from Port Sudan in the North to Durban in South Africa. The 9,900km submarine cable is expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2009 and have nine landing stations along the East coast of Africa.


The objectives of the project are to establish a broadband optical fiber network that will link East African countries (both landlocked and coastal) as well as to link to SAT3/WASC/SAFE. The fiber optic project, which will complete the fiber optic ring surrounding Africa, is expected to provide cheap broadband Internet access to the beneficiary countries. One distinctive aspect of the project is the involvement of other interested private investors, universities and regional bodies like the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) secretariat. The African Universities Association, for example, is investing in the project to buy bandwidth capacity for its members.

The decision to embark on the EASSY project was made due to the high cost of bandwidth Internet connection into African countries, especially those on the Eastern corridor. Other financiers of the project are the telecommunication operators in the region, the World Bank and NEPAD, among others.  It is worth noting that Rwanda has been chosen to be the headquarters of the EASSY project.


Problems facing the EASSY PROJECT

Mogadishu is the only landing station in Somalia

There are some implementation problems facing the EASSY project such as the misunderstandings among the members of the consortium with regards to the “open access” policy being canvassed by one of the members of consortium. NEPAD- e Africa Commission insists that to enhance cheap Internet access in Africa, all local telecommunication and ISPs should have free access to the EASSY cable network. NEPAD is advocating for an “open access” policy to avert the problem associated with.

The other business partners of the consortium are not in agreement with the policy. They also insist that the project should be run like a business entity to maximize profit. (Perhaps change previous two sentences to the other business partners of the consortium are not in agreement with the policy as they insist that the project should be run like a business entity to maximize profit) They further insist that only telecommunication companies and Internet Service Providers with international gateway licenses to be allowed to become members of the network. This impasse among members has resulted in a delay in the commencement of the project.

Due to the delay of the project, Kenya, one of the members of the consortium, decided to move ahead and construct its own fiber optic network, expected to cost 15 billion Kenyan shillings. Kenya is currently lobbying other countries such as Djibouti, Tanzania and Uganda to join her in constructing the project. However, other members of the consortium are appealing to Kenya to rescind its decision and rejoin the EASSY consortium.


Local Telecommunication operators of EAASY Project


Despite problems facing the utilization of fiber optic cable systems in Africa, there are numerous opportunities African countries can derive from the two main projects.

The cable, known as EASSy, will run 10,000 kilometers from the continent’s southern tip to the African horn, connecting South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, and Sudan. Another 13 adjoining countries will also be linked to the system as terrestrial backbone networks are completed through a broader World Bank Group initiative: these include Botswana, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

African nations can utilize these opportunities to match up with international telecommunication operators worldwide. For example, the links from Europe and Asia to South Africa across both West and Eastern corridors of Africa will afford African countries the opportunity to utilize the network to bridge the digital divide. If the networks are well utilized, then it will create sustainable backbone networks linking African countries. The networks will also go a long way to bridging the internal digital divide between rural and urban areas.


The fiber optics networks will afford Africans the opportunity for broadband connectivity that will ensure fast delivery of video, voice and data for business, banks, governments, television companies, media conglomerates, oil exploration and mining companies, among others. The digital technology of fiber optic networks will also make it easier and cheaper for social services to be rolled out across the continent through the use of such applications as telemedicine, distance education and access to the World Wide Web. Being the main hub of the SAT3/WASC/SAFE project in Africa, recent findings show that South Africa is utilizing the project to make economic and social gains.


The economic and business opportunities available for the fiber networks are enormous. As discussed under the current update of the SAT3/WASC/SAFE project, the International Finance Corporations study findings show how the existence of the fiber cable network is facilitating the growth of foreign investments, employment, and business opportunities in the four West Africa countries surveyed.  One of the key business opportunities mentioned in the study was business process outsourcing ventures, in which all the countries are working to attract more foreign investments and to provide job opportunities to their citizens.

Foreign firms and companies can also use the fiber optic networks to outsource or sublet some of their business operations to Africa. For example Ghana has provided a cost effective labor source for American companies in data processing ventures. By outsourcing their operations in Ghana, foreign the companies cut down their operational cost and avoid payment of local taxes.


Furthermore, proper utilization of fiber optic networks in Africa can go a long way forward enhancing e-commerce, opening new markets and expand distribution of international and local trade, selection of buyers, suppliers, and other telecommunication service providers.


This can also facilitate creation of countless jobs and the opening of numerous opportunities for African and international entrepreneurs alike.

Fiber optic networks in Africa can provide opportunities for international business to invest in such areas like telecommunication so that cellular phones, video games, and other interactive digital software and hardware industries can grow in Africa.


What is Next


The Fiber Optic initiatives in Africa have the prospects of providing viable and sustainable broadband networks, especially in countries along the coast. African countries should put in place policies that will ensure efficient utilization of the projects. Based on the discussions in this paper, it is evident that the SAT3/WASC/SAFE project is not adequately benefiting Africa countries. The high cost of bandwidth, monopolistic tendencies by Telekom South Africa and other national carriers and under utilization of the network are hindering the set objectives of the project.


In addition, the initial misunderstanding of the EAASY project by the members of its consortium is also creating unnecessary tension. Hence, Kenya wanted to set up its own network. There is need for African countries to put in place a well coordinated plan to ensure that the two main projects do not duplicate efforts. There is need for to introduce competition among the local telecommunication companies by breaking monopolies among the national carriers. This will go along way to reduce the high cost of fiber optic broadband use in Africa.


There is the need to speed up the proposed integration and rationalization plan of Africa’s terrestrial telecommunication infrastructure by NEPAD. The initiative will establish a submarine optical fiber cable system along the West coast of Africa that will be accessible to inland land-locked African countries via broadband links from the submarine landing points. The project is in its construction stage and being funded by the World Bank and other development partners. In 2005, India gave US$200,000 credit to NEPAD to help set up the project. The integration will help African land-lock countries to have access to cost effective broadband connectivity.


Linking the project to terrestrial and satellite networks will also afford opportunity to businesses and other multinational corporation to have reliable broadband connectivity in the event of service interruptions or any adverse weather effects that can cause damage to satellite dishes or terrestrial antennae. Furthermore, the linkage will also go a long way safeguarding Africa’s telecommunication infrastructure by catching up with developed world. The NEPAD Africa Commission e-projects namely, the e-school initiatives and those related the e-policies, e-strategies, tele-medicine, e-commerce and e-governance should be implemented in earnest.

What is Fiber Optics?


Fiber optics or optical fibers “are thin strands of glass or plastic capable of transmitting large quantities of information over long distances with little signal loss. “Fiber optic communication is based on the principle that light in a glass medium can carry more information over longer distances than electrical signals can carry in a copper or coaxial medium.  From the two definitions, one can see that fiber optic technology is based on a glass fiber medium that allows transmission of digitized light signals to carry information over long distances with few transmission losses.


How Does Fiber Optics Work?


Fiber optics use light as a method of encoding a transmitted signal. A standard fiber optic link consists of three parts, which includes a light source, optical fiber as the primary transmission medium, and a transducer (receiver/detector). The light source is a Light Emitting Diode (LED) or laser. The LED modulates an incoming electrical signal into an optical signal. The optical fiber consists of two layers of different types of glass surrounded by a protective acryl ate coating. “The two layers are the core and the cladding.  The light is guided through the core region where it is detected at the receiving point. At the receiving end, the transducer converts the optical signal back into an electrical signal. Fiber optics technology transmits information by changing electronic signals into light signals.

Fiber optics are used in three distinct communication environments, namely, long-carriage inter-exchange telephone communications, in combination with coaxial cable to serve as the backbone for modern cable television systems in a configuration referred to as “hybrid fiber/coax,” and fiber optics used in local area networks for data distribution. In relation to types of fiber optics, there are two types, namely, multi and single mode. The multi mode has a larger core than that of the single mode.

The multi mode allows hundreds of modes (rays) of light to go through the fiber at the same time. It is worth noting that multi mode fibers are ideal for short distance applications or local area networks where the links are usually less than three miles in distance and can accommodate many connectors.   A single-mode fiber has a smaller core that allows only one mode of light at a time to propagate through the core. Single mode fibers are designed for a long distance application such as long carriage telephone trunk line applications that require high bandwidths.


Advantages Fiber Optic Systems have over other Transmission Media.


The use of fiber optic technology has certain distinctive features over other means of communication. In terms of broad bandwidth capability, fiber optic systems offer users more potential bandwidth than any other type of transmission medium. “An actual fiber strand is a few microns wide in diameter, or the equivalent of 6/1,000s of inch thick. When bundled together in a duct or passageway, the combined bandwidth provides more than sufficient capacity for most voice, data and video applications.” This means that fiber optic cables are capable of transmitting very large volumes of data, audio and other multi media applications when compared with copper wire with dial-up connection. In addition, the fiber optics cables offer room for future expansion at minimal extra cost and without the need for excavation or construction and lying of new cables. This is also an advantage for telephone communications companies looking for continued steady growth in the types of services they offer and demand for more.


Fiber optic systems are not prone to electromagnetic interference as are telephone twisted pair wires, coaxial cables and satellite. This is because the transmitting medium is non-magnetic. Thus, the fibers cannot pick up electromagnetic interference from generating plants, electric cables, and other sources of high electricity voltage lines.7 Fiber optic cables are robust and durable. They are also resistant to extremes in weather and temperature. Due to their flexibility, they are ideal for installation in places like subway routes, culverts, elevator shafts or any aerial conditions. Furthermore, fiber optics cables can achieve higher speeds for voice data and video transmission than any other transmission medium. Modern multimode fiber cables can transmit at speeds between 100Mbits/s and 622 Mbits/s depending on the transmission.


Fiber optics cables do not emit radiation; therefore they do not interfere with other media. Unlike the satellite, telephone or cable connection, a broken connection which is wire tap can be detected within a few inches. Thus, if there is any damage on the system it could easily be found and repaired. In terms of cost of production, fiber cables are inexpensive. One of the reasons for this is that the primary source of raw material is sand.  Furthermore, fiber optic cables tend to be lighter than other telecommunication; in addition, fiber optic cables allow transmission of signals over long distances with few amplifiers. Within this medium attenuation is very low.


Arguments against Fiber Optic Technologies


It should be noted that in reviewing sources for the researched paper, it became clear that some authors question the claims that satellite communications are less secure than fiber optic. “All new satellite systems are based upon digital multiplexing systems. For that matter digital systems are difficult to intercept, especially if encryption and encoding systems are used to enhance security.” He also argued that there are at least five methods that can be used to intercept a message on fiber optic systems. To dispute the claim that fiber optic cables are immune to interception, he writes that, fiber cables can be “cross-sectioned, and eavesdropped.” Halley (1987) also writes that the fiber optic system can cause damage to human eyes, if proper care is not taken to protect the eyes in the course of installing the system. According to this author, “The densities of optical energy emitted by the light source and by the extremity of the fiber are sufficient to damage the retina permanently before the victim notices.” He therefore advocates the wearing of “infra-red” glasses when working near the “operational equipment.” Despite Pelton’s arguments concerning shortcomings of fiber optic technology, there are some satellite companies that blend both satellite and fiber optic technologies.


For example, the Pan America Satellite Company (PANAMSAT) provides both satellite and fiber optic technology in a quest for more integrated distance telecommunication. PANAMSAT’s fiber optic network links its North and South American satellite’s to European countries. The same opportunity could also be provided to African countries to better integrate their telecommunications sector.


The Prospects for Fiber Optics Initiatives in Africa


Several initiatives have been taken to connect the African continent with submarine fiber optic cables to enable Africa countries to have access to the international telecommunication market. Among the first of these were two projects advanced by transnational telecommunication company’s in1993 and 1994. Siemens submitted a proposal called Fiber optic Link across the Globe (FLAG). ALCATEL, in collaboration with AT&T, presented a different proposal called Africa Optical Network, simply called African One.18 The initial 400, 000 km of fiber optic cable was valued at $1.6 billion. Africa One was slow to take off because, in 1997, Tyco Submarine System bought out the AT&T interest. The Africa submarine project later materialized as the Third Southern Africa Telecommunication /West Africa Submarine Cable/ South Africa-Far East Project (SAT3/WASC/SAFE).  The project consisted of three fiber cable projects - the Third Southern African Telecommunications cable, the West African Submarine cable and the South Africa Far East cable. Known by the acronym- SAT3/WASC/SAFE, the project consisted of a 14, 279 km submarine cable from Portugal to Cape Town and a 12, 169 km.  Global view of SAT3/WASC/SAFE and EASSY Projects  


The Third Southern Africa Telecommunication / West Africa Submarine Cable / South Africa-Far East Project (SAT3/WASC/SAFE)


The SAT3/WASC/SAFE is an international fiber optic network that connects Portugal to South Africa linking the entire west coast of Africa then crossing the Indian Ocean to East Asia.21 The fiber cable system is divided into two main subsystems namely SAT3/WASC (the Third Southern Africa - Western Africa Submarine cable), a 15,000km fiber optic cable linking Europe with South Africa and ten countries on the West African coastline. The African countries are Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Angola and South Africa. Non African countries who form part of the project are Canary Island, Portugal and Spain. SAT3/WASC (the Third Southern Africa - Western Africa Submarine cable) and its SAFE (South Africa - Far East) extension continues the connection another 13,800km as far as Malaysia via Reunion and Mauritius, with a landing that brings India into the network.


SAT3/WASC/SAFE was launched on May 27, 2002, in Senegal. The project was to provide an underwater global information highway for the Southern Hemisphere. The project was expected to access 90% of Africa's existing sub-Saharan telephone market in which 72% of the sub-Saharan population lives. SAT3/WASC/SAFE is a project made possible by 36 member countries, telecommunication operators and other Ibid international investors where the majority of the landings are in African states. In terms of investment, there are 12 investors from Africa, 4 from America, 8 from Asia and 12 from Europe. So far, over US $600 million has been spent on the project.  Among the thirty-six member consortium on the SAT3/WASC/SAFE network, twelve of them are Africa nations. Each of the countries has a national telecommunication company that manages the traffic flow of the fiber optic bandwidth in the respective countries. But South Africa’s Telekom serves as the managing agent for the Africa section of the cable network. South Africa has the highest bandwidth among the members of the consortium.25 beneath are the countries and the local national telecommunication companies that manage the project and their respective countries:


Update on the SAT/WASC/SAFE Project


Since its inception in 2002, The SAT/WASC/SAFE project has created many opportunities for African countries. The project enhanced access to Information Communication Technology (ICT) services among the beneficiary nations. For example, increased access to bandwidth on the broadband Internet has enhanced speed of transmission of data, voice and other interactive multimedia applications in countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal. According the International Financial Corporation research, the SAT/WASC has created an enabling environment for the four countries, allowing for achievements in network consulting, system administration, software production, and data processing industries, among others.


In addition, the project is helping the member countries to reap benefits in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and off-shore ventures. For example, the availability of the SAT/WASC hub in Ghana has attracted foreign companies such as the Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Incorporated (ACS), Data Management International Incorporated of Delaware and Rising Data Solutions to open their offices in Ghana. ACS, for example, employed over 1,300 Ghanaians in a data processing venture, the project is not only creating job avenues to the Ghanaians but it also creating investment opportunities.


South Africa is also making giant strides in the ICT sector. A current research finding of reveals that “within the web hosting space there are a number of players including the Network Service Providers (NSPs), IT outsourcers, and specialized web hosting companies.”

The SAT3/WASC/SAFE project is also benefiting landlocked countries in Africa who now have access to broad bandwidth connection. Senegal, for example, was able to link countries such as Gambia, Mali, Mauritania and Guinea to the network. The SAT/WASC/SAFE project has created business opportunities for countries like South Africa to continue to dominate the broadband market.


Problems facing the SAT/WASC/SAFE Project


The SAT/WASC/SAFE project is not having the desired impact on African countries due to several factors. The project has been criticized by telecommunication experts for not solving the high costs associated with broadband access in the African countries to which it connects. South Africa Telecom, the main managers of the SAT3/WASC project, has kin intensifies for monopolizing the determination of bandwidth charges.30 Telecommunication analysts indicate that bandwidth subscription fees are very high, starting from US$ 25,000 for megabytes per second for a month rates. Nigeria and Ghana telecommunication companies, for example, charge their Internet Service Providers and other bandwidth vendors between US$ 10,000-15,000 megabytes per second for a month.31 Due to this problem, most ISPs prefer to subscribe to Satellite services. One of the main objectives of the SAT/WASC/SAFE, to bridging the digital divide between Africa and the more developed world, has not been fully achieved. The high cost of bandwidth by the owners of the network has created a situation where Internet and telecommunication operators continue to rely on international satellite operators for their bandwidth access. It was revealed at a workshop organized by Open Source Africa that an estimated US $600 million are paid annually by local ISPs to international telecommunication operators for bandwidth access.33

Furthermore, scattered and uncoordinated infrastructure investments have created problems of unused networks in most of the landing locations. Uncoordinated efforts and duplications of fiber optics initiatives in several African countries have resulted in the under-utilization of the SAT/WASC/SAFE network. The inability by telecom operators to equitably distribute the bandwidth has resulted in a situation where most of the local fiber optic networks are concentrated in urban areas leaving the rural areas undeveloped. According to an International Finance Corporation report (2003), among the four West African countries surveyed, (Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana), Senegal is the only country that has a well developed rural Internet network in Africa.35

Another problem with SAT/WASC/SAFE project is that the transactions of the consortium are not open to non-members. Membership is limited to “close club members.” Furthermore, the shares or equities of the consortium are easily trade able.  The failure of SAT3/WASC/SAFE to solve the problem of high cost of bandwidth is among the reasons why another fiber optic project was proposed. This project is known as Eastern African Submarine System. [i]




In conclusion, in Africa, the channels of communication are underdeveloped or inappropriate due to numerous factors. After independence from colonial rule, the lack of an adequate telecommunication infrastructure impeded national development in many African states. Until the 1980s, the principal means of communication were still newspapers, books, telephone, radio, and television. However, with the development of advanced technology, such as satellite and fiber optic networks, advances in the computer industry and the advent of the Internet, new forms of communication media are creating opportunities for African countries to develop their modern telecommunication infrastructure. This paper outlines the prospects for fiber optic technology in Africa. The paper defines fiber optic technology, how fiber optic networks function, and explains how different this technology is from other communication infrastructures. The researched article also looks at some fiber optic networks in Africa and how fiber optics applications are being used to enhance technological and economic development. The paper concludes by looking at the future of fiber optic technology in promoting modern technological advancement in the international telecommunication sector. The term “flattening the world” is being use in figurative sense to prove how fiber optic cable networks in Africa are facilitating easy, convenient and accessible flow of information across the world). To enable African countries to realize the tremendous revolution taking place globally in terms of modern telecommunication, there is the need for African countries to utilize a mix telecommunication infrastructure to leap frog their economies by relying on the varied opportunities provided by these technologies. Such projects serve as opportunities for Africa to utilize the telecommunication infrastructure to enhance socio-economic development for all their people.


Osman Dahir Osman

Somali Internet and Communications Technology (SICT)

Mogadishu, Somalia

Email: [email protected]

[i] 1 See Mail and Guardian: “Namibia and Botswana to co-operate on telecoms” Posted on April, 21 2006. Retrieved on May,16 2006 at

2 See High Commission of India website “ Bilateral Trade and Economic Relations” Retrieved on May, 17 2006 at

See NEPAD E Africa Commission website: “Origin and Overview”: Retrieved on May,17 2006

 3Jensen M, and Soderberg, B (2003) Investment Opportunities in West Africa/ICT and Internet Services: Regional Analysis. International Finance Corporation. (p.10)

4 See Infodev website: “Leveraging New Technologies and Open Access Models: Options for Improving Access in Developing Countries with Focus on Sub Saharan Africa. Published on February 17 2004 Retrieved on May 15 2006 at

5 See Oyuke J. “Govt. firm clash over Sh 15b Project.” The Standard online posted on May, 9 2006. Retrieved on May, 17 2006 at

6 See Mail and Guardian on line: “(Broad) banding together”. News article posted on March, 31 2006. Retrieved on May, 15 2006 at


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