A great deal of articles have been written about all the East African cables being deployed. Rightly so, given that connectivity is paltry and slow at the moment and about to get a good deal faster (hopefully.) But while this is all good, when you read about how fast the cable is laid out in the ocean (10+km a day), you realize that it’s really the inland part that’s tricky and there’s a lot of inland land in Africa. Sure, you don’t need a boat to make it happen and the ever-present media-spawned threat of pirates is less, but the issue of cutting across fields, farms, and most importantly, international borders on land is pretty daunting.
I suppose it’s because they haven’t broken ground on the project yet, or probably more to the point that the majority of coverage has been in French, but the Central African Backbone is starting to gain a bit of momentum. (Please add to the Wikipedia link if you know more as I had to create it when writing this article.)
A good deal of what I know came from this article on ZDNet in French which covers the basic layout of the cable and the fact that it will most likely start in Algeria and connect to Europe to the north and Sub-Saharan Africa to the south. While there was a little bit mentioned about this last February, it’s the fact that Algeria has decided to really set forth and start laying the cable that has garnered more worthwhile attention lately. Their Information Minister is pushing it in the name of getting rid of the satellite connections and helping Algerians better connect to the internet. But in reality, anyone smart knows that this is going to be a major cash cow for Algeria once they punch through to the other countries including Chad, Cameroon, and CAR. All of that comprises Phase 1 of the project and I’m not exactly sure how they’re planning to connect Chad with Algeria and not be connecting Niger which lies between the two. Apparently there is a bit of a “and then a miracle occurs” aspect to the planning currently.
Phase 2 of CAB is even more in the Wild West portion of planning as a great number of countries have been tossed around in the mix to connect. While Nigeria might be there, the most probable candidates are Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, São Tomé, and Congo-Brazzaville. Congo-Kinshasa is also on the list to possibly be connected. Of course, Kinshasa could be very well have its own link very soon, so it’s not quite as crucial for that area. What would be more impressive is if Northern Congo-Kin could get in on the link coming in to CAR assuming that they would naturally run any fiber link to Bangui, the capital, which sits against the border with Congo. If only Mobutu would have lived to see the day when Mad Men could be live streamed at Gbadolite…
Unlike the Globacom cable, this initiative is indeed being financed be foreigners, namely the World Bank. You can view a brief overview of the loan, here. They quote Phase 1 as being $30 million USD. The ZDNet article quotes it as being €17 million, so I don’t really know which figure is for certain. Phase 2 is set to cost in the neighborhood of $160 million, so obviously due to the amount and the number of countries involved, it can be understood as to why it’s so undecided at this point.
However the pieces fall, once the links start getting put in to place from Algeria, there will be a world of change for the interior of Africa which usually relies solely on VSAT connections that are obviously better than nothing, but still suck. As to speed for CAB, I couldn’t find any hard figures. It is said that Cameroon will have 12 optical fibers and Chad will have six, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, nor does it really say much about speed. I guess once things actually start happening over the next year, we’ll get a better sense of all this.