Promise and Setback in African Fiber Optics

On July 2nd, the Main One Cable company finished construction on a 4000 mile fiber optic cable linking Nigeria to Western Europe. The new pipe promises 20 times the capacity of sub-Saharan Africa’s entire satellite network. The Main One is one of 10 new cables being laid to Africa which promise to drive down costs and expand access.

Three days later as if to highlight the challenges that still remain the Seacom fiber optic cable connecting east Africa to India and Europe failed. The disruption brought connection speeds in Tanzania and Kenya to a crawl while Uganda and Rwanda switched back to more expensive satellite connections. Submarine cables are difficult to repair and vulnerable to accident or malfeasance. In 2008 large parts of the Middle East and Asia were left without connections after an anchor severed the FLAG cable in the Mediterranean.

The challenges don’t end once a cable is laid; extending the connection to rural locations is difficult and costly. Copper wire used for low bandwidth lines is frequently stolen withSouth Africa alone estimated to lose $1 billion dollars because of replacement costs. These examples highlight both the potential and vulnerability of an increasingly sophisticated communications infrastructure.


About Jordan Hosmer-Henner

Jordan is director of research at TechChange. He graduated from Duke with a dual major in Economics and Public Policy and is now pursuing an MA in International Science and Technology Policy at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. His concentration is in the application of emerging technologies to international development applications. He has particular experience in the use of mobile applications for the delivery of public health and medical services.Jordan believes in the potential of Free/Open Source software to advance peacebuilding and development goals and is most excited about the ease of replicating, scaling and customizing open solutions. He is looking forward to supporting the talented developers who are working to create innovative technological solutions.
  • Eyoh

    Truely,fiber optic still has lots and lots of challenges to be tackled most especially in underdeveloped.