How Seacom is navigating through double disasters

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Seacom CEO Byron Clatterbuck.
Seacom CEO Byron Clatterbuck.

Deemed an “essential service”, submarine cable operator Seacom has laid bare its plans to navigate the COVID-19 lockdown and the breaking of the West Africa Cable System (WACS) cable to mitigate impact on the business.

In an e-mail interview with ITWeb, Seacom CEO Byron Clatterbuck says the company is as exposed to the economic impact of the lockdown as the rest of the businesses in the South African economy.

Besides the COVID-19 lockdown, Seacom was also impacted by the breaking of the WACS undersea cable system which resulted in Seacom carrying a large amount of South Africa’s international Internet traffic.

Seacom uses the WACS cable system predominantly as a “protected” path for Seacom’s main data superhighway on Africa’s east coast – the Seacom cable system.

It is expected the WACS cable will be fully restored tomorrow.

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

Through its ownership of Africa’s most extensive ICT data infrastructure – including multiple subsea cables and a continent-wide IP-MPLS network – Seacom provides communications and cloud solutions that enable the growth of the continent’s economy.

Although Seacom recently said it is upgrading its subsea cable systems’ lit capacity from 1.5TB to 3TB this year, the company is expecting more competition in the submarine cable business with new players set to enter the fray.

Google will launch its Equiano cable that will connect Africa with Europe. Once complete, Equiano will start in Western Europe and run along the west coast of Africa, between Portugal and SA, with branching units along the way that can be used to extend connectivity to additional African countries.

Social media giant Facebook will also encircle Africa with its own cable system, dubbed Simba.

“The entire telecoms industry has been deemed an ‘essential service’ by the South African government. Seacom has applied for, and been granted, its ‘essential service’ status,” Clatterbuck says.

“We have changed our way of work – staff are now working from home with the focus of keeping our business running by supplying good quality Internet and connectivity solutions, while keeping up our industry-leading service levels,” he notes.

Clatterbuck adds that equally as important as keeping the Seacom business running well from an operation point of view, the company also understands the lockdown is affecting all its customers.

“As Seacom is one of the largest Internet providers in Africa, we are ensuring our network is reliable and of the highest quality – especially at a time like this when connectivity is paramount.”

He adds that team meetings are continuing, and most teams continue with their daily stand-ups. “We realise, as I am sure most other organisations do, that frequent communication during this time is key to business success and continuity.”

On how the lockdown will impact on revenue, Clatterbuck says: “We are a part of the South African economy and, thus, are feeling the impact of the pandemic on our business. It is too soon to be able to quantify the impact on our revenue, but we remain committed to keeping Africa connected.”

According to Clatterbuck, Seacom has also seen a noticeable increase in its network traffic since the lockdown began.

“This is expected and we are pleased to have enough spare capacity across our network components to accommodate the increased demand,” he says.

“Seacom has a complete business continuity plan and has activated components of this plan in the current lockdown scenario. If there’s anything we can all learn from COVID-19, it’s that nothing can be fully predicted. It is, therefore, imperative to plan for ‘everything’; the world’s greatest leaders will tell you that planning is key to business continuity.”

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