Now that SEACOM is live, what next?
It finally happened – after a delay of approximately one month, the SEACOM high speed internet cable went live in 5 African countries including Kenya on the 23rd July 2009. However, it will probably take a month or two before we can feel the full impact as many internet service providers (ISPs) and Telcos will be testing the SEACOM service before they (fully) migrate from their satellite-based links. Nevertheless, I do believe my ISP at home is already on SEACOM as the speeds this weekend have easily doubled from what was a fairly decent internet connection.
So, now comes the interesting part. If we now have improved internet bandwidth, and this is only set to improve in the coming months as the TEAMS and EASSY high speed undersea cables also go live, what will we do with all this abundance? To begin with, we will initially just have to get used to the idea of near-instant email downloads, streaming real-time multimedia content and accessing web-based services quickly for a change. It will be like drinking soda from a fire hose instead, of a straw. We will gorge ourselves on this bandwidth, and then, we will get bored! Yes, bored of too much of a good thing. Only then will we start thinking of how we can put our excessive internet bandwidth to productive use.
There are many pros and cons to abundant internet bandwidth, even as everyone keeps talking about only the pros. There are obvious socio-economic benefits that can be expected, across the board. However, there are also an inherent number of risks for which many people and organizations are not (yet) ready for. More bandwidth means that viruses, malware, hacking and phishing will take on a whole new dimension. The disruption of business models that have worked well hereto will be challenged by the idea of truly global competition. There will be a need for massive capacity building across a broad range of industries and sub-sectors – workforce skills will need to be “e-enabled”. Education in the form of e-learning will become far more widespread and accessible, cost-effectively and efficiently. In a nutshell, lots of change is enroute.
Once we are fully settled into the idea that abundant bandwidth is a way of life and that Africa had been left so far behind due to lack of it, we will have to work hard, really hard, to catch up with other global markets in record time. This will put new demands on adopting global best practices and learning the hard way just what is required to take full advantage of high quality internet access to global customers and services. It will without a doubt be a level playing field, but one that can tip either way in our favour or to our detriment at any time. So, lets be pragmatic about the go live of SEACOM as the panacea for all our socio-economic challenges – there is still so much more work ahead to realize the full potential of high speed internet in Africa.