Seacom seeks additional capacity from new subsea cables

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 29 Mar 2023
Prenesh Padayachee, chief digital officer at Seacom.
Prenesh Padayachee, chief digital officer at Seacom.

Cable operator Seacom is looking to partner with more submarine cable operators that are landing on the continent.

The move is aimed at boosting capacity on the Seacom cable, which launched about 14 years ago.

By joining hands with other players, Seacom also wants to keep up with newer technologies in the undersea cable industry.

So said Prenesh Padayachee, chief digital officer at Seacom, in a recent interview with ITWeb, after the Pan-African subsea cable company went live on Google’s recently-launched Equiano cable.

The cable now forms part of Seacom’s subsea cable ecosystem surrounding Africa, which is supported by a continent-wide IP-MPLS network.

Seacom launched Africa’s first broadband submarine cable system along the continent’s eastern and southern coasts in 2009.

In 2012, Seacom and others invested in the West Africa Cable System (WACS), creating a “ring” around Africa and offering fail-safe connectivity.

In 2014, it introduced 10Gbps IP transit routers, and in 2018, it began the planning that would be required to improve SA’s network infrastructure with 100GE capabilities.

Beyond WACS

“For us, as a premium connectivity provider on the continent, it’s important for us to have access to high capacity, as well as protection on the cable system that we run,” stated Padayachee.

“The Seacom cable is located on the east coast, and the Equiano cable gives us capacity on the west coast. So, we can get access to any of these cables across our own network, which is beneficial to us.”

He noted the current west coast cable from which Seacom gets capacity is the older WACS cable. “But the benefit for us to land on Equiano is that WACS lands on a number of countries enroute to Europe.

“What you will find on Equiano is that it is a fibre pair that runs from South Africa directly to Portugal, and then from there, we get terrestrial capacity into other parts of Europe. So, it’s unique in that we don’t get to land in various countries along the way – it gives us the shortest subsea route to Europe.”

Announced in 2019, Equiano, Africa’s highest-capacity subsea internet cable, which landed at Melkbosstrand, north of Cape Town, starts in Western Europe and runs along the west coast of Africa, between Portugal and SA.

Branching units along the way can be used to extend connectivity to additional African countries.

The other benefit is that Equiano has newer technology, Padayachee said. “The capacity on the cable gives us higher expansion plans as the needs on the continent increase, without having to commission a newer cable.”

Besides the Equiano cable, Seacom is looking to ride on newer cables, such as 2Africa, which also recently hit South African shores.

The consortium behind the 45 000km 2Africa cable includes China Mobile International, Facebook, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, STC, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone and WIOCC.

According to Padayachee, Seacom is always in discussions with different subsea cable operators in order to enhance its capacity.

“We are continuously on the lookout for newer cables that land in the territories that we operate in. So, for 2Africa, there will be a discussion.”

As much as there has been a lot of media coverage on the landing of the 2Africa cable, he pointed out that there still needs to be the commissioning of the cable.

The 2Africa subsea cable, the largest subsea cable system in the world, landed at the Vodacom network facility in Gqeberha, South Africa, in January.

In December last year, Vodacom’s competitor, MTN SA and MTN GlobalConnect – also 2Africa landing partners – announced the landing of the 45 000km cable in Yzerfontein and Duynefontein, Western Cape.

“The cable might have hit the land but the commissioning of the cable takes much longer,” Padayachee said.

“As that starts to unfold, we will work through that as well, because it will complement what we already have on the east coast with our own Seacom cable.”

Coming of age

Detailing the evolution of Seacom since 2009, he commented that it started with technology that was available at that time.

“We’ve subsequently done some upgrades on the cable by changing the technology on the cable, which allowed us to extract more bandwidth on the cable. The configuration of the cable has enabled multiple routes going north and south. On the southern route, we connect to a number of countries.

“The cable technology has changed so much and that’s why with these newer cables, we can get more bandwidth. As much as we have upgraded Seacom over the years, from a technology and infrastructure point of view, we haven’t upgraded the cable itself because upgrading the cable would require laying a whole new cable.”