Africa’s International Bandwidth Reaches 500 Gbps Mark

Africa’s total international Internet bandwidth reached 520 Gbps in December 2010, a 78% increase compared to 2009. This was split between North Africa, which increased by 56% to reach 312 Gbps, and Sub-Saharan Africa which increased by 125% to reach 208 Gbps.

This bandwidth growth is clearly the result of the arrival of multiple, competing submarine cables last year. This has seen dramatic increases in countries connected to submarine cables for the first time: Comores Telecom for example, which was connected to EASSy in July last year, increased its Internet bandwidth from 12 Mbps in 2008 to 180 Mbps by December 2010. Meanwhile, Mauritius Telecom which was first connected to SAFE since 2002 and has also invested in the EASSy, LION, EIG, and WACS cables, initially activated four STM-1 circuits (622 Mbps) on EASSy and had increased its Internet bandwidth from 3 Gbps to 4.8 Gbps by December 2010.

Growth has also been driven by the completion of cross-border backhaul routes from landlocked countries. The volume of cross-border traffic backhauled to submarine cables doubled again for the second year running, reaching almost 20 Gbps in December 2010. There has also been significant progress in the expansion of national fibre backbones delivering greater bandwidth to cities and towns inland from the coast. In the first quarter of 2011, a total of 45,338.7-kms of network was added or edited in the Africa Telecom Transmission Map, bringing the total inventory of terrestrial transmission network to 645,938.2-km. By comparison, in July 2010 this stood at 585,471-km and in July 2009 at 465,659-km (restated).

As this map of Facebook users from December 2010 shows, there is a strong correlation between social networking users, broadband uptake and the presence of high capacity fibre networks. Created by Paul Butler at Facebook, this map was made by taking a sample of 10 million pairs of friends out of 500 million users, then mapping their locations and traffic flows. According to Socialbakers, which publish worldwide Facebook user statistics, Africa reached some 28.59 million users by the end of April 2011. Africa reached the milestone of 25 million users in February 2011, a net increase of 5.4 million compared to three months previously (19.6 million), and 8.3 million six months previously (16.7 million).

Whilst the map shows bright spots in those cities with submarine cable landing points (Dakar, Accra, Lagos, Cape Town and so on), there are also bright spots in the capital cities of landlocked countries such as Harare (Zimbabwe), Kampala (Uganda), Kigali (Rwanda), Lilongwe (Malawi) and Lusaka (Zambia), which were connected by terrestrial fibre to submarine cables only recently. What is particularly striking about this map are the bright spots in towns and cities outside of capital cities, and the spread of broadband usage along the route of fibre networks. In Ghana for example the fibre ring between Accra (the capital), Takoradi and Kumasi is clearly visible, as well as the fibre routes to Sunyani, Tamale and Paga in the north which were completed by the National Communications Backbone Co Ltd (NCBC) last year.

Africa Telecom Transmission Map Updates Q1, 2011

A total of 372 changes were made to terrestrial transmission networks on the map during the quarter, with fibre backbones extended in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This included 17,232.3-km of operational fibre, 14,417.5-km of fibre under construction, 6,731.6-km of fibre which was planned, and 4,417.3-km of fibre which was proposed. A further 2,540-km of microwave network was either added or edited.

Africa Bandwidth Maps - Rolling Transmission Map

As an example of the speed with which terrestrial fibre routes are being built, landlocked Zambia currently has 3,671-km of fibre under construction (Q1, 2011) and will have four separate international fibre routes to submarine cables by the end of this year. The first is the existing fibre link through Namibia, and the second is through Botswana. In April, Liquid Telecom and Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC) announced that they had created a joint venture called CEC Liquid Telecommunications Ltd which will provide international wholesale services through Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, ZESCO has started work on the second phase of its national fibre backbone, including a link to Tanzania, which it plans to complete the end of the year.


Fibre Long Haul

African operators are continuing to build new backhaul routes to submarine cable landing points to increase diversity and resilience, and are expanding national backbones to delivering greater bandwidth to cities and towns inland from the coast. In Cameroon for example, a new fibre route was completed from Douala to Limbe, where the ACE cable will land. In the Comoros, Comores Telecom completed fibre routes prior to the entry into service of the EASSy cable, and in December last year announced plans to build an inter-island submarine cable as a domestic backbone connecting the islands of Grand Comore, Anjouan and Mohéli.

Elsewhere, in Ghana the National Communications Backbone Co Ltd (NCBC) completed a northern fibre ring from Navrongo to Sunyani and in Malawi the Malawi Telecommunications Ltd (MTL) completed a fibre route from Lilongwe (the capital) to Mangochi as it close a southern ring to Blantyre. In Tanzania TiGO and Zantel announced they have started building their own national fibre backbone primarily along railway lines, which is due for completion within 24 months. And in South Africa, FibreCo (the joint venture between Cell C, Convergence Partners and Internet Solutions) announced plans to complete the first phase of national backbone by the end of 2012. Meanwhile, the co-built network being built by Neotel, MTN and Vodacom had trenched some 472-km of the route from Pretoria to Durban by December 2010, and Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) are also building a second alternative route from Pretoria to Mtunzini via Vryheid.

Cross-Border Routes

Several additional cross-border routes were added to the map during the quarter. Swaziland has opened up a second international fibre route via Lavumisa to the submarine cables landing at Mtunzini (South Africa). In Chad, the fibre route from Ndjamena (the capital) to Kome was completed in the first quarter, and will soon be connected to the fibre cable running along the pipeline from Kome to Kribi via Yaounde. Once operational, this will provide Chad with access to submarine cables landing in Cameroon for the first time.

During April, Liquid Telecom announced that it had formed a joint venture with Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC) called CEC Liquid Telecommunications, and has started building a fibre route from Chirundu on the Zimbabwe/ Zambia border to Ndola via the capital, Lusaka. Malawi Telecom Ltd (MTL) plans to complete a second international fibre route to Mozambique by the end of the year from Mangochi to Mandimba as an alternative to the existing route through Zobue. In Uganda, Kenya Data Networks (KDN) expects to complete the fibre route from Kampala to Gatuna on the border with Rwanda during the second quarter, which will close a fibre route from Mombasa (Kenya) to Kigali (Rwanda).

Submarine Cables

The Europe India Gateway (EIG) submarine cable, which provides onward connectivity for cables serving sub-Saharan Africa, entered partial service during the first quarter with the segments from the UK to Libya (Tripoli), and from India to Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) entering service. The remaining segments through Egypt from Jeddah to Tripoli are due to enter service during the second quarter. In April, Globacom announced that the GLO-1 cable running from Lagos to the UK entered service from Accra (Ghana) following the launch of services from Lagos (Nigeria) last year. In addition, the WACS cable landed at Yzerfontein near Cape Town (South Africa) on 19 April, and after completion in the second half the year is expected to enter service in the first quarter of 2011.


Africa’s total Internet bandwidth increased by 78% to reach 520 Gbps in December 2010, with North Africa increasing by 56% to reach 312 Gbps and Sub-Saharan Africa by 125% to reach 208 Gbps. The volume of cross-border traffic backhauled to submarine cables doubled again for the second year running, reaching almost 20 Gbps in December 2010.

Whilst a number of key new cross-border routes were completed last year, the capacity on existing routes has been upgraded in line with demand. Burkina Faso for example increased its international Internet bandwidth on cross-border fibre routes to Senegal (via Mali), Cote d’Ivoire and Benin (via Togo) from four STM-1 circuits (622 Mbps) in 2009 to six (933 Mbps) in 2010.


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