MTN Nigeria, SAT3 Woes, IT convergence & Why West Africa needs more sub-marine connectivity

The Internet is a very powerful medium of communication. IP protocol (the backbone technology of the Internet) allows just about any data to be encoded and transmitted from node to the other. Riding on this power and ubiquity, many means of communication in today’s world are now increasingly relying on the Internet. Projections are that all communication would be routed through the Internet, in future. It is thus not much of a surprise to me that the progressive cellular networks in Africa today already rely on the Internet for carrying their international voice traffic.

It was a cool Friday night in July 2009 and I had just arrived Lagos in Nigeria from Accra Ghana. I expected my cell phone to automatically switch to MTN Nigeria but it failed to do so nor did it switch to any of the other local cellular networks. I didn’t give it much of a thought. I settled into a cab and headed to my destination. I soon tried calling and sending SMS but all failed; the phone still wouldn’t connect to MTN Nigeria. I left the phone on the seat expecting to try again later; that was the last time I saw my Nokia E71.

It soon became public knowledge that MTN Nigeria was having serious network problems. Subscribers on checking their airtime balance got some apology from MTN stating that services like Roaming, BlackBerry, Internet connectivity, international calls and international SMS were experiencing difficulties and they were working hard to fix the situation. It turns out the problem, linked to the SAT3 cable was way beyond MTN Nigeria. BBC News reports:

Large parts of West Africa are struggling to get back online following damage to an undersea cable.

The fault has caused severe problems in Benin, Togo, Niger and Nigeria.

The blackout is thought to have been caused by damage to the SAT-3 cable which runs from Portugal and Spain to South Africa, via West Africa.

Around 70% of Nigeria’s bandwidth was cut, causing severe problems for its banking sector, government and mobile phone networks.

From the BBC report, it is obvious that West Africa is desperately in need of an alternative to the SAT3 sub-marine cable that connects West Africa to the world. I am aware that Globacom is almost through with laying its cable to connect Nigeria, Benin, Ghana to Portugal and the UK but there is much delay. It is very risky that in a world that is relying more on the Internet, West Africa is served by only one sub-marine cable.

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Oluniyi D. Ajao is an Internet Entrepreneur and Tech Enthusiast based in South Africa. Follow him on twitter @niyyie for more tech updates.


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