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History of the Internet in Africa: Technology evolution

UUCP networks  and Fidonet

At the beginning of the 1990s, African countries relied upon X.25 IPSS and 2400 baud modem UUCP links for international and internetwork computer communications.
Many Fidonet were also installed in some countries  before  full IP gateway installation.

Full IP connections


Most african countries installed their first internet Gateway through satellite links.

Africa relies on satellites and Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) earth stations for most of its connectivity. This results in high prices — though tariffs often of USD 3 000 – USD 5 000 are often lower than SAT-3 — and the applications are slow compared to other technologies. A web page request can take up to 16 seconds to complete. Intelsat, the world’s largest commercial satellite service provider, provides full coverage in Africa. Thuraya, which has Middle East and North African telecommunications and investment companies as shareholders, gives coverage to North and Central Africa.

Fibre around the continent

Moves are being made in west, east and southern Africa to increase the international networks. But for now, East and Southern Africa relies on satellites and has just 0.07 per cent of the world’s international bandwidth capacity. The 10 000 kilometer long East Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) was to connect 21 countries from South Africa to Sudan by 2008. Prices were expected to fall to USD 500 - USD 1 500 per Mbps/month under an open-access scheme where every service provider could purchase at the same price, whether or not they were investors. The USD 263 million project has suffered delays largely due to disagreements over management of the consortium.

While EASSy has been delayed, other projects have advanced. Seacom is a 17 000 kilometer submarine fibre optic cable costing USD 650 million scheduled to launch in June 2009 and link South Africa with Mumbai in India, Marseille in France and London via Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar. Kenya is also working with Etisalat to connect its coastal city of Mombasa to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. Alcatel-Lucent has been awarded USD 82 million to lay the 4 500 km fibre-optic cable for the East African Marine System (TEAMS). SEACOM and TEAMS will begin operations in Kenya in the second quarter of 2009 with an open access policy and prices of USD 500 -USD 1 000 per MBPS/month.

The World Bank has allotted USD 424 million to boosting regional networks in eastern and southern Africa under the Regional Communications Infrastructure Programme (RCIP) which it hopes will increase traffic by at least 36 per cent a year and cut bandwidth costs by one tenth. Kenya, Burundi and Madagascar are involved in the first phase of RCIP, involving USD 164.5 million. By the end of the programme, it is expected that all capitals and major cities in eastern and southern Africa would be linked to competitively priced high bandwidth. The RCIP accounts for more than 10 per cent of total World Bank support to Africa. The African Development Bank (AfDB) is also helping infrastructure development.

On the West coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal have the most significant potential demand for international capacity. Up to seven investment groups have said they would add international capacity in the region but only a few will succeed. Globacom, the second oldest operator in Nigeria, is expected to lay a 9 500 km fibre optic link to Lagos in 2009 later going to Accra, Ghana and Dakar, Senegal. The GL01 project, costing USD 150 million, is risky as the operator’s current traffic volume in Nigeria, Benin and Ghana does not justify the investment. MaIN One is another Nigerian project implemented by Mainstreet Technologies to link Portugal with Lagos and Accra by May 2010 with USD 200 MBPS/month wholesale prices. The link is ultimately expected to go on to South Africa and cost USD 865 million. The West African Cable System (WACS) is supported by the largest operators in South Africa, MTN, Neotel, Telkom and Vodacom, which have traffic along the West coast. Only landing stations in Lagos and Accra are planned.

The Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) project supported by France Telecom and 14 African operators is expected to connect France to Gabon by 2011. The cable will be built by a France Telecom-managed consortium. The Other Three billion (O3b) satellite, costing USD 750 million, is expected to be in service by 2010 with prices around USD 700 MBPS/month. It will be able to download web pages in 4 seconds. NEPAD’s Uhurunet plan for an undersea fibre optic link around Africa does not have much support. Finally, Thales Alenia Space is constructing the first pan-African telecommunications satellite, Rascom. Originally planned for the 1990s, it is now only expected to provide services after 2010. The West African Festoon System (WAFS) aims to connect countries along the west coast from Nigeria to Namibia. It is expected to have the same governance structure as the SAT-3 cable and also be managed by Telkom SA so WAFS might not offer open access.

Some alternative networks operate with mixed success. More than six electricity companies have received a licence to sell capacity directly or through another company. A 2 000 km fibre optic cable is owned by Société Nationale d’Electricité (SNEL) in Democratic Republic of Congo. These have been badly hit by the country’s war. The World Bank is spending USD 315 million in Democratic Republic of Congo, including USD 33 million on a fibre-optic cable network. This could be expanded to other members of a proposed Southern African Energy Pool. Escom in Malawi will soon have fibre-optic cable links to Mozambique and the Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Tanesco) says it will build a new national grid with spare capacity used for telecommunications.

Map of mediterranean undersea cables

Map of mediterranean undersea cables landing in Africa


A  powerpoint presentation with historical dates  can be be downloaded at



Table with dates of country name and date