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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 17:47 GMT
East Africa plans cable link
Fishing boat off Mombasa, Kenya
East Africa's seas could soon be hi-tech below the surface
Telecom executives from East Africa have been meeting to discuss the possibility of connecting countries in the region by an undersea fibre optic cable.

At present African states pay about $400m (250m) a year to have international calls to other African countries routed via Europe.

"Africa has better connection to Europe and America than within the continent," Telkom Kenya managing director Augustine Cheserem told the meeting in Nairobi.

The meeting decided to draw up a feasibility study for the cable which is not yet fully costed. A report in Kenya's Nation newspaper cited an estimate of 300m Kenyan shillings ($4m).

Growing demand

"We are anticipating substantial growth in (international data) traffic over the next five to 10 years," said Telkom Kenya strategic planning manager Joseph Ogutu.

Deregulation of the region's fixed line telecoms sector coupled with expansion in mobile phone providers means East Africa has more telecoms firms than before.

The cable would create a cheaper alternative to existing satellite-based transmission systems whilst adding extra capacity, Mr Ogutu told BBC World Service Radio.

The cable would probably run from Durban, in South Africa, as far north as Dijbouti in the Horn of Africa via Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya.

Mr Ogutu dismissed suggestions the consortium might face similar problems to Global Crossing, the international fibre optic network giant which filed for bankruptcy in January 2002 with liabilities of $12bn.

Global Crossing's collapse revealed the rush to build networks in the late 1990s had resulted in overcapacity. The firm's networks linked 200 cities in 27 countries.

Going it alone?

"Most of the investment of Global Crossing was across the Atlantic and parts of the Pacific where already there's quite of lot of submarine cable," said Mr Ogutu.

He said it was too soon to decide whether the consortium would seek a strategic partner from outside Africa.

However, South African and West African firms had already co-opted to lay an undersea link for the west coast of the continent without outside investment, he said.

The consortium includes Telkom Kenya, Tanzania Telecommunications, Uganda Telecommunications, MTN and Zantel.

Joseph Ogutu, Telkom Kenya
"We are anticipating substantial growth in traffic over the next five to 10 years..."

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