The resuscitation of the SAT-3 sub-marine broadband cable by ntel, will no doubt boost economic and social activities in Nigeria, writes Emma Okonji

The South Atlantic 3/West Africa Submarine Cable, popularly known as SAT-3 submarine cable system, which is the link to internet access from Europe to West African countries, began operations in 2002. It was launched in 2001.

SAT-3 took over from SAT-2, after reaching its full capacity, having been in operations since the early 1990s. SAT-2 was a replacement for the original undersea cable SAT-1, which was constructed in the 1960s.

SAT-3 became the West Africa submarine Cable system for telecommunications and internet connectivity after SAT-2, with 17 landing points in 15 countries, spread between Europe and Africa with stops along the West African sub-region from Nigeria to Senegal and south-ward to Angola and South Africa. It provided access to global markets and enabled seamless and diverse connectivity to the rest of the world.

The SAT-3 cable system became Africa’s longest submarine cable, covering a distance of 28,800km, with a total capacity of about 1,000 Gbps.

The cable system was funded and owned by a consortium of 35 foremost telecoms operators from different parts of the world, including the government owned Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL).
While NITEL was the sole operator and financier of SAT-3 in Nigeria, the cable system, at some point in time, became the only source of internet connectivity to Nigeria, before the advent of MainOne and Glo 1 submarine cables in 2010 and the MTN West African Cable System (MTN WACS) in 2011.

Prior to the advent of MainOne, Glo1 and MTN WACS, Nigerians and all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that were connected to SAT -3, suffered a great set back on internet connectivity, anytime there is a cut on the SAT-3 cable, because it was the only source of internet connectivity to Nigeria at that time.

But by the time NITEL could no longer cope with market competition from telecommunication operators like Globacom, MTN, Etisalat and Airtel, the effectiveness of SAT-3 became hampered. This happened because NITEL was the custodian of SAT-3 submarine cable system in Nigeria. The eventual collapse of NITEL also adversely affected SAT-3 operations in Nigeria, a situation that forced many Nigerian ISPs, who were hitherto connected to SAT-3, to switch their internet connectivity to other submarine cable operators like MainOne and Glo1.

But in December 2014, when a consortium of telecoms company, called NATCOM, now trading as ntel, bought over NITEL and its mobile arm MTel, its focus was to resuscitate the moribund SAT-3 and turn it around for effective broadband internet service delivery.

Fourteen months after it took over NITEL and its affiliations such as the SAT-3 submarine cable system, ntel has been struggling to resuscitate it. Eventually, a breakthrough came last week with ntel, promising that the resuscitation of the SAT-3 would help to revamp economic and social activities of Nigerians, via internet connectivity.

Economic value

Speaking on the economic value of the SAT3 Cable System, the Chief Executive Officer of ntel, Mr. Kamar Abass said the new submarine cable now connects to a landing station in central Lagos, through a network of metro-fibre ducts. He said it connects to multiple districts in Lagos and through high-capacity inter-city connections, reaches multiple cities across Nigeria, thus boosting economic activities of the country, where more Nigerians will have access to the internet to promote e-commerce business and academic research.

Abass explained that reviving SAT-3 has eventually restructured it into a highly stable cable infrastructure that would maximise availability of cost-efficient broadband access, compared to satellite services, and co-location to Tier III standard at data centres in central Lagos.

The re-activation of SAT3 by ntel is coming on the heels of the cable’s fourth upgrade which has boosted its system from 420Gbps to 920Gbps in the northern segments and from 340Gbps to 800Gbps in the southern segments.

ntel’s SAT3 network has the capability of direct connectivity to more than 100 terminals stations around the world, making it the only submarine cable system in Nigeria with such leverage.

ntel’s deployment of superfast broadband internet access will help enable e-learning, e-commerce, e-medicine while facilitating communication and entertainment for subscribers who are increasingly mobile and connected.
But most critically, broadband access will impact positively on the economy, since the national broadband policy has indicated that a 10 per cent increase in broadband access leads to a 1.3 per cent increase in GDP.

Social value

Speaking on the social value of of SAT-3, Abass, said: “The repair of SAT-3 is fantastic news for data-hungry consumers and corporates in need of superfast and abundant broadband carried over a robust fibre network with significant capacity and low latency.”

He said potential customers of SAT-3, which include Nigeria’s telecoms and Long Term Evolution (LTE) operators, ISPs, major international companies, private telecom operators, content/hosting operators, infomedics/infomatics operators, the judiciary for the execution of real-time on-line matters, banks and the military as well as airline operators, would all enjoy new internet experience via SAT-3.

He explained that SAT-3’s repair, which included the cable’s physical diversion away from shipping lanes in the Port of Lagos, would put an end to incessant undersea cable cuts that resulted in complete loss of internet access in the past.

“In the past, the dropping and dragging of anchors from ships had been associated with disruptions to the cable system. With the repaired system’s activation, the system’s upgrade IV will also be implemented, and this will boost internet penetration among individuals and organisations,” Abass said.

He added that with the resuscitated SAT-3, Nigeria is now positioned to better address her needs for super-fast internet connectivity, data-hungry applications, high-quality video-on-demand and increasing social media usage, thus enhancing customer experience.

According to him, “During 2016, ntel expects to connect hundreds of new customers to the SAT-3 system, including many who have successfully used the system in the recent past.”

Rivals of ntel’s SAT-3

Aside ntel’s SAT-3, which is one of the country’s submarine cable system, designed to boost internet penetration across the country, ntel will still have to contend with other submarine cable systems like MainOne, Glo 1 and MTN WACS.

Main One submarine cable, which was launched in Lagos in July 2010, completed an upgrade mid-November same year.

When compared to SAT- 3’s capacity, Main One’s upgrade has boosted its capacity to 100G wavelength on its submarine cable network between Nigeria, Ghana and Portugal. MainOne is also able to interconnect with SEACOM and other international cables from Seixal in Portugal via Tata Communications’ European and Transatlantic networks and interconnection in Telehouse, London.
In 2015, it completed connectivity between Nigeria and Cameroon.

The submarine cable currently delivers high speed bandwidth of 1.92 Tbps and has been proven to provide capacity of at least 4.96 Tbps.

MTN’s WACS, which was launched in 2012, on the other hand, has 14 landing points, 12 along the western coast of Africa (including Cape Verde and Canary Islands) and two in Europe (Portugal and England) completed on land by a cable termination station in London. It also has bandwidth capacity of over 5.12 Tbps and spans 14,530 km.

The cable is made up of four fibre pairs and is 14,530 km in length, linking from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape of South Africa to London in the United Kingdom. The landing points are South Africa, Western Cape, Namibia, Swakopmund, Angola, Sangano near Luanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Muanda, Republic of Congo, Matombi near Pointe Noire, Cameroon, Limbe, near Douala, Nigeria, Lekki, Lagos,Togo, Afidenyigba near Lomé, Ghana, Nungua near Accra, Ivory Coast, Abidjan, Cape Verde, Palmarejo near Praia, Canary Islands, Telde near Las Palmas, Portugal, Sesimbra near Seixal, and the United Kingdom.

The Glo 1 submarine cable is a 9,800 km long cable from Lagos to UK, connecting 17 African and European countries to UK. It has landing points in Nigeria, London, Senegal, Morocco, Spain, Bude, UK and Lisbon in Portugal.

It also has 16 branching units to connect countries in West Africa. The submarine cable system became operational in 2011 after it was launched in 2010, with a minimum capacity of 640 Gbit/s and total capacity of 2.5 Tbit/s.

SAT-3’s strategy for competition

Coming at a time when other submarine cable operators are competing for market share, Abass said SAT-3 has unbeatable strategies that would make it remain at the top of the business, in spite of competition.

He explained that SAT3 has the longest stretch of submarine cable system, covering 28,800km, and as such, has the longest reach extending from Africa, past Europe to the far East.

He said because of its reach and interconnection with SAFE and WASCs as well as its 17 landing points, SAT-3 would be able to accept and deliver on multiple requests.

“The multiplicity of requests means more customers, which translates into higher revenues. Again as a member of a consortium of 35 other entities, SAT-3 can leverage on economics of scale to provide more pocket friendly pricing for corporates and enterprises requiring access to home offices and foreign markets. SAT3’s ability to provide the most pocket friendly pricing regime will boost broadband access, which leaves it firmly aligned with the recommendations of the National Broadband policy, which has projected a five-fold leap in broadband access by 2018,” Abass said.

Finally, SAT3’s reach, which provides it with a unique advantage, in regard to the Far East, is concerned especially with a resurgent China and high volume business transactions between Nigeria and Asian countries, Abass added.

ntel’s bouquet of offerings

Based on the telecoms assets acquired by ntel such as National Carrier; International Gateway; Digital Mobile licenses; Cellular mobile and microwave spectrum; Tower sites; Telephone exchanges and Satellite earth stations, which include Metro fibre ducts and intercity fibre rights of way, ntel said it was capable of offering National Bandwidth, International Voice termination, Mobile Network on 4G LTE mobile services across voice, data and video services, delivered nationwide in stages.

With the return of SAT-3, ntel, no doubt is set to further deepen broadband penetration in the country.