I just recently finished reading this article. It’s massive. It’s longer than the Wikipedia article on Michael Jackson, but of course there is a good reason for this. This article on Wired UK details more points about the internet cables that are being deployed off the coast of East Africa than any other article I have read to date.
I have to be quite honest in that the initial tone of the article is rather paternalistic at first with grand, Stanley-esque ways of explaining things such as “Somalia, the planet’s most utterly failed state”. Thankfully, it gets past all of this and digs right in to the facts such as Kenyans paying $2,300 a month for a duplex satellite connection with one megabit of throughput, but 600ms of latency. This means that they’re spending a helluva lot of money for a meager pipe that takes over a half a second for each single bit of data to transmit. Given that even a lean page has 50000 bytes of data that is not a fast connection whatsoever. This is one of the reasons that we’re seeing such a fanfare about these new connections. They will be the first time that East Africa will be connected to an internet that more closely resembles the rest of the world and at a price that will be much, much more affordable (although not at first of course.) And with the cable transmitting at 1.28 terabits per second (or 16,800 megabytes per second if my math is correct) that should be some pretty decent throughput.
All of this is not coming cheaply. Seacom (the entity that the article mostly talks about) is investing $650 million USD in the project which goes to show why the TEAMS project isn’t faring as well given that it’s working with a sixth of that to lay its cable.
Teams doesn’t appear to have a website. It also doesn’t appear to have a dedicated office, telephone number, email address or anything else one might reasonably expect. But work is definitely underway.
From the history of the projects, the article then delves in to the technical elements of how cable is laid, which I really thought was just a process of dumping it on the ocean floor. It happens that it’s just a tad bit more complex than that:
Deep below the waves somewhere off the coast of Africa, a bright-yellow six tonne box-shaped object, about the size of a small military tank and bristling with wires, lights and gadgetry, is trying to take hold of a submarine cable lying on the seabed. This is the Tyco Resolute’s remote operated vehicle, or ROV – and one of the coolest toys imaginable. It has rubberised tracks to drive about on the ocean floor as well as thrusters on its sides, enabling it to fly like an undersea helicopter.
Then it gets in to Kai Wulff. I would warrant that while Kenyans are probably happy to see that they’re getting faster internet in the very near future, they’re probably not all that thrilled that a German is going to be the one in charge of it. And Wulff doesn’t mess around: “the first large-scale customer of Seacom in Kenya, having secured a 15-year 10Gbps slot on the cable for a cool $100 million.” KDN (Wulff’s company) is apparently also in the process of “rolling out fibre links to Kampala in Uganda, building redundant rings around Kenya, linking into Tanzania, Rwanda and other countries.” meaning that in a good way, this map will need some updates.
All of this is just a snippet of the article though. If you haven’t read it yet and have any interest at all in these projects, I would highly recommend taking a look; allusions to cable engineers looking like Antonio Banderas and all.