Broadband Infraco adds capability to monitor WACS

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 07 Jul 2020

Broadband Infraco’s (BBI’s) latest service offering is not only “good news” for its own business operations but for the wholesale industry.

So say analysts, commenting on the news that BBI has added undersea cable monitoring as part of its new service offerings.

In line with the added capability, the state-owned wholesale infrastructure provider will monitor the West Africa Cable System (WACS) submarine cable’s performance.

WACS is a submarine communications cable linking SA with the UK, with landing stations in Portugal and 11 other countries along the west coast of Africa. It consists of four fibre pairs and is 14 530km in length, linking from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape of SA, to London in the UK.

Sabelo Dlamini, senior research and consulting manager at IDC South Africa, says expanding operations signals the state entity is growing.

“Monitoring WACS will expand BBI’s operations in the region and strengthen its presence in the wholesale space from the terrestrial infrastructure. These services will also complement the organisation’s engineering and technical capabilities for the better.

“Additionally, this will enhance the organisation’s revenue streams, and we may see this expanding to other undersea cables landing in the country.”

Turning the tide

In the past, BBI’s future has often been questioned, especially concerning the critical rollout of broadband services in SA.

However, last year, BBI CEO Andrew Matseke expressed intent to turn around the organisation’s financial state through a mixture of traditional business and an enhanced service offering in the digital revolution era.

He stated the entity was not in the queue with other state-owned companies to ask government for a bailout. Rather, it was focusing on a business model that would eventually make it profitable, financially viable and sustainable.

According to BBI, the newly-added service offering will afford it the opportunity to oversee the operation, maintenance, configuration, testing and monitoring of the WACS undersea cable, utilising the primary network monitoring system.

This, it says, is in addition to its network operations centre (NOC), currently providing large-screen views of the network, detailed reporting on service level agreements and a customer support centre nationally and regionally within the Southern African Development Community region.

“This is a significant milestone in showcasing the capacity and skills that Broadband Infraco can deliver on world-class monitoring of the undersea cables, external data communications and secure access – virtual private networks, on a global scale,” says Peter Mafagana, senior manager of network operations at BBI. “The partnership with WACS enables us to create a remarkable product and an exceptional customer experience for our existing customers.”

BBI believes monitoring the WACS network will position it as a leading player in managed NOC services, further enabling it to provide NOC as a service to other international operators, regional operators and government ICT companies.

“We are honoured to be entrusted with the responsibility of operating the NOC for an international fibre cable system, which handles over 5.1Tbps of traffic capacity. We will certainly leverage on the experience gained from managing our vast national long-distance and regional optical fibre network,” states Mafagana.

Lifeline for cable breaks

On 27 March, at the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in SA, the WACS network suffered a cable break.

This resulted in South Africans experiencing slow Internet speeds at a time when demand was high as more people began working and learning from home. Repairs on the WACS submarine cable were reported to be complete on 6 April.

WACS also suffereda cable break together with the SAT3/WASC cable in January, resulting in slow Internet speeds in SA.

Derrick Chikanga, IT services analyst at Africa Analysis, believes BBI’s service offering will be much welcomed by the industry, particularly in light of the inconvenience caused by undersea fibre cable breaks.

Chikanga explains: “Repairing an undersea cable break can take anywhere between a number of days to a couple of weeks, during which businesses and consumers could be severely affected by the low connectivity speeds experienced during such times.

“This could be quite inconveniencing, especially considering most companies are currently implementing a work-from-home policy, and require uninterrupted connectivity.

“Furthermore, most organisations are using cloud-based services such as Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and these require high-speed connectivity to function properly.”