• Making contact

    Through its investment in connectivity, Angola Cables has created a communications system that links global networks, partners and content providers with the continent, says CEO António Nunes.

    Making contact

    Despite the world being able to adapt swiftly to new technology, in the search for faster and better-performing connectivity, overcoming latency (the time it takes for information to travel from one point to another) has become a big concern.

    We have depended on satellites for decades, but considering the route between two continents is generally shorter via sea, submarine cable communication improves latency issues dramatically. However, it is very expensive and an extremely arduous task to lay, and it is also one of the reasons why the continent has struggled to keep pace with the rest of the world in terms of how it connects.

    The Angolan telecoms industry saw this as an opportunity, bringing together five main local operators to create Angola Cables in 2009. The objective was to advance the nation’s – and, by default, the region’s – digital economy and ultimately become one of the most valued telecoms hubs in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Over the years, Angola Cables has been utilising the West Africa Cable System (WACS), which it co-owns with several European and African telecoms operators. However, WACS is limited as it connects just 12 African nations to three European countries and could not, on its own, be the catalyst to advance Angola Cables’ aspirations to revolutionise regional communications.

    With finance sourced from the National Development Bank as well as international markets, Angola Cables was able to address challenges relating to the slow and lagging digital market in Africa, which the company’s CEO, António Nunes, describes as a hindrance to developing markets and big business. ‘Africa has never really experienced the smooth road of good connectivity,’ he says. ‘By concentrating on using a configuration and dimension that can be accessed by other intercontinental connections, the system we devised will – and does – create any number of business opportunities for a wealth of diverse stakeholders on the continent.’

    By early next year, Angola Cables will deploy its connectivity services via the South Atlantic Cable System (SACS), the world’s first submarine cable across the South Atlantic. The 6 300 km route will link Sangano in Angola to Fortaleza in Brazil, with 40 Tbps of capacity. This will facilitate a link to the rest of the Angola Cables network in the Americas via Monet, a subsea cable that connects Fortaleza to Miami in the US – one of the busiest communications channels globally.

    SACS is the most strategic arm of Angola Cables’ blueprint. Not only does it provide access to a huge percentage of global communications gateways, but it will also provide – along with Angola Cables’ new hub centres and internet exchange points (IXP) – a network of connectivity that Africans have not yet experienced.

    ‘This submarine system will dramatically change the way Africans connect. For those using Angola Cables’ network, the real benefits will come from having a provider that has direct connections to North and South America and Europe, with the lowest latency path between them,’ says Nunes.

    ‘Not only will the time lag of a data package delivery between Angola and Brazil reduce from some 300 milliseconds to 60 milliseconds – a fivefold better latency compared to the current situation – an improved-quality internet is also effected.’ The amount of content will also increase with regards to the direct routes that will be available in getting to the information source.

    Linking Angola to Brazil has also necessitated the building of Angola Cables data centres – one in Praia do Futuro (Fortaleza), which is currently under construction; and another in Luanda, also the site of the company’s headquarters. Called Angonap, the carrier-neutral data centre is the major traffic exchange point in Angola, housing local telecoms operators and much of the country’s digital-market, like bankers, media and multimedia agents.

    ‘These two state-of-the-art design and construction centres offer varying layers of security, humidity and environmental controls that are crucial in a data centre in terms of providing effective safety, efficiency and reliability,’ says Nunes. ‘This is truly high-end technology and engineering excellence.’

    All this, however, is part of a much greater picture, which includes a basket of offerings from Angola Cables, the only company in Africa that offers a hosting and connectivity service around the Atlantic in one package. Through strategic partnerships, support services are guaranteed, particularly those that provide cloud resources. And, says Nunes, ‘as more stakeholders come on board, price parameters will improve’.

    Peering partnerships, which refer to the boosting of connectivity between international carrier networks, content delivery networks, social networks, cloud and IT service providers, are a crucial component to ensure success. For example, Angola Cables has a relationship with France-IX Marseille that, since August this year, has seen three-times more traffic from peering members of Angola Cables’ own IXP, Angonix, also based in Luanda.

    Angonix is the main point of national internet traffic exchange in the country and is ultimately intended to serve the entire region. It’s also an ecosystem that international network administrators will be able to tap into should they wish to establish themselves on the continent.

    ‘Peering is crucial for keeping traffic paths local and throughput as high as possible. The majority of traffic for and in Africa currently travels outside of the continent. We want to change this, and we have the ability to do so in order for customers to derive the highest possible benefit. By offering these remote-peering services, we ensure our customers and partners have access to the latest communication technology,’ says Nunes. ‘It also means we are proving to be the ideal partner for international connectivity and high-quality internet services.’

    Other partnerships have been concluded with GigaPIX (Portugal), LINX (London), DR-CIX (Frankfurt and France), ESpanix (Spain), AMS-IX (Netherlands) and NAPAfrica (South Africa).

    The latter is particularly significant in that it’s the largest IXP in Africa. It is colocated within Teraco facilities in South Africa, and is one of the touchstones that drives Angola Cables’ presence across SADC’s 15 member countries. For the technically minded, the Angola Cables network is a large Tier 1 internet platform that uses ASN#37468.

    The rate at which Angola Cables is growing is exceptional, proven by statistics that show how, over the past 18 months, it has risen to be the third-largest internet service provider in Africa. Being the best or the biggest, however, was never the intention.

    ‘We just want to be a recognised part of the hub environment,’ says Nunes. ‘Digital advances may have put us in a favourable position for achieving this, but it has required our looking beyond Africa to be a differentiator in the market, and also why our relationship with Brazil has been so crucial.’

    Revolutionising the Angolan (and regional) digital market is, however, merely a starting point for Angola Cables – the company can now begin to further its continental goals.

    According to Nunes, many were sceptical about the company’s original vision. ‘It has been an intensive journey but we’ve proven we are more than competent. SACS is the realisation of a dream – a development that reflects our ability to find solutions and overcome challenges.

    ‘I also believe we’re making an even more profound difference – we’re putting global confidence back into the African market.’

    By Kerry Dimmer