Internet flurry as Kenya goes live on Seacom cable

Stephen Tricarico (right) the technical engineer network testing services from TYCO Telecommunications, USA shows Seacom Fibre Optic technical staff engineer Ismail Abdulshakur where to click to officially commission the Seacom fibre optic under sea cable at the Swahili Cultural Centre where they have put up the landing station. Photo/GIDEON MAUNDU

What you need to know:

  • However, providers warn Kenyans will enjoy wonders of the link from September

The connection of Kenya and eastern Africa to the rest of the world via the 17,000-km Seacom fibre optic cable on Friday was marked by excitement.

The promise of faster internet was greeted with sensational updates on popular social networks like Twitter and Facebook by those who had their first taste of real broadband.

“CNN Live TV loaded in 19 seconds flat... try satellite... how long does it take?” “Testing the Seacom fibre optic cable in Mombasa, and this is on steroids! Last time I had internet this fast, I was in Germany!”, “Guys... the Internet revolution we have all been waiting for is about to go live...”.

These were some of the comments in blogosphere by those who had sampled the good things to come as the undersea cable was commissioned in Kenya, South Africa, India, Tanzania and Mozambique simultaneously. However, Uunet Managing Director Tom Omariba said Kenyans will get their first taste of the wonders of the fibre optic cable from September.

He said Internet Service Providers require some time to test the cable before they can roll out the vastly improved access to their customers.

Recoup investments

While the speeds will definitely amaze, the cost will take time to drop in the drastic manner it has been predicted.

“The fibre optic cable is expensive to lay so service providers will initially serve areas they think have potential,” he said.

On Thursday, Haskell Ward, Seacom’s senior vice president in charge of government relations, speaking in Mombasa, warned the public that they have to wait a little longer for cheaper internet as industry players will first want to recoup their investments.

Seacom announced that it would offer wholesale prices in the range of Sh7,700 ($100) per megabyte, with subsidised costs of between Sh770 and Sh1,925 to schools, research and health institutions.

Bandwidth currently costs $5,000, about Sh42,350, per megabyte.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the link to the rest of the world lies in the increased ability to download audio and video files from the internet, something that is bound to get Kenya’s young generation excited.

This is also likely to expose Kenyans to criminals who use the Internet to hack into computers, spread computer viruses and access credit cards remotely. The increased ability to access harmful sites will also be a concern for parents.

Mr Cheruiyot Serem, a software developer, said the slow connection has been the main reason hackers have been unable to penetrate Kenya and the region but with the fibre optic cable, some firms might find themselves heavily exposed.

Wireless bandwidth

One area of growth is expected to be in the mobile telephony sector as operators will increase their wireless bandwidth.

This means that those using modems to connect at home need not worry about them becoming redundant as the service will also become faster.

A significant advantage of the fibre optic cable lies in its efficiency in the transmission of signals.

With VSat, the most common Internet connection in use in Kenya today, it takes between 600 and 700 milliseconds for a signal to travel from one earth station to a satellite and back to earth – described as a round trip.

The fibre optic cable reduces round trip time to less than 100 milliseconds, said Mr Serem, meaning that the chances of congestion are reduced to almost zero.

The benefits of fibre optic are three-fold: an increase in the bandwidth (a bigger pipe through which to feed pass data), a reduction of the round trip time and reduction of the chances of congestion.