The Current & Future State of Submarine Cables In Kenya & East Africa With The Arrival of DARE1 Today
It’s almost 11 years since Kenya and East Africa got connected to by the East African Marine System (TEAMS) submarine cable which set the stage for the transformation of the regional digital economy that we are currently experiencing. So much has changed since then that it’s hard to imagine that we ever had issues with the cost, quality, and speed of Internet access in the region, just a decade ago.
Since June 2009, we now have a total of four submarine cables connecting Kenya and East Africa to the world. These are the East African Marine System (TEAMS), The Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), the Lower Indian Ocean Network (LION) and SEACOM. All these cables serve to deliver an unprecedented amount of Internet bandwidth in the region to the extent that Kenya and East Africa have some of the best Internet speeds available not only in Africa but on a global basis.
The reality is that there has been a seismic shift in what the Internet looks like in the context of consumers, businesses and other kinds of organizations in East Africa, thanks to the aforesaid submarine cables. My own personal revelation is that having traveled to numerous global destinations in the last few years, Kenya has some of the best Internet speeds I have ever experienced and many of you would agree with me. True. Story.
The major benefits of the current scenario mean that Internet bandwidth telecommunications have improved dramatically whilst the costs have concurrently dropped massively. These two trends have been key to driving the transformation of the regional digital economy, by giving rise to innovative and disruptive market scenarios that would have been impossible a decade ago.
If you think back to Kenya and East Africa 10 years, the Internet was slow, expensive and definitely not as ubiquitous as it should have been. The holy grail at that juncture was the realization of high-quality Internet access, at scale, that would become a key enabler for a regional digital economy, underpinned by technology. This would lead to the rise of a new kind of knowledge-based economy where jobs would be created, startups would rise, Governments would evolve and everything we knew would change.
Affordable and high-quality Internet at scale has transformed ‘local digital content’ in the form of products and services that disrupt the status quo. In many ways, this has come to pass in East Africa thanks to the wide-scale adoption of leading digital platforms such as Uber, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Google that have millions of users in the region. Indeed, the platforms tend to be global in nature but the local content that resides on them is at serious scale. The regional digital economy is pulsing and thriving like never before.
Therefore, one would imagine that when it comes to submarine cables, given that we have four already, that this space is done and dusted? Not so, apparently. Indeed, potentially, we are just getting started so grab your popcorn for the next iteration of digital speed. This morning, Kenya is expecting the arrival of the fifth submarine cable to connect the region to the world. The Djibouti Africa Regional Express 1 or DARE1 is set to arrive in Mombasa this morning and deliver an additional massive capacity of 36 Tbps. To put this into context, see below the various capacities of the existing submarine cables:
- TEAMS: 5.2 Tbps
- LION2: 12.33 Tbps
- EASSy: 18.6 Tbps
- SEACOM: 12 Tbps
This means that the current combined capacity on ALL the four submarine cables is 48.13 Tbps which is little more than the entire capacity DARE1 will have when it goes live soon. That’s HUGE, if you ask me.
In conjunction with the Government of Kenya, through Telkom Kenya, the 5,000 km DARE1 cable system will be connected from Djibouti to Mombasa and complement the four existing submarine cables. DARE1 will have higher speeds and lower latency at reduced costs which will serve to realize better and more affordable Internet access for businesses and consumers in the region.
DARE1 is configured as a three fiber pair trunk, with each fiber pair delivering a cross-sectional capacity of 150 channels at 100 Gbps! At first glance, it would appear that Kenya and East Africa may not need yet another submarine cable given how good our Internet quality is these days but consider how different things are these days. Everyone streams content to their connected devices. We live online. We are digital denizens. This. Is How. We. Roll (pun intended).
The Internet has become a utility for many East Africans that we cannot live without. In essence, the increased adoption and evolving digital consumer behaviour mean that the more bandwidth we consume, the more we need. We need speed more than ever. As we move towards an increasingly digital workstyle and lifestyle, more and affordable bandwidth will be key.
The arrival of DARE1 is extremely important as the growth of the regional digital economy continues to escalate. The extension of mobile and fiber networks to every corner of the region means that we are more connected than ever before with smartphones and mobile apps being key to driving digital content consumption, and, creation.
We are in an era where being digitally competent and competitive at both macro and micro levels is essential for all stakeholders and DARE1 is yet another added gear to accelerating all things digital in the region. I can’t wait to see how much faster we can go in driving forward the regional digital economy!