Google’s O3b Networks -vs- EASSy. Fight! Part 1
If you’ve been keeping pace in the Afri-tech space lately, you have probably heard about two of the biggest projects battling for the Broadband Title by being the first to bring ubiquitous broadband access to all of Africa: the EASTERN AFRICA SUBMARINE CABLE SYSTEM (EASSy?) project and the Google-backed O3b Networks satellite project. If you haven’t, well, sit back, open up your brain, let me lay down the skinny for you. I’ll give you the play by play, complete with my layman’s sideline commentary on what this fight means for you my fellow African Diaspora and those back “home”.
Now don’t be fooled into thinking that this is going to be a fair fight by Western standards—with rules of engagement, sportsman-like conduct and the perfunctory nod of gentleman’s honor, blah blah blah. Oh no, this fight, my fellow techies, is going to be dirty, profit-centered (no matter their respective corporate mantras), knock-down, drag out, slap your mama and yo’ granny, kick’em while they are down kind of back alley scuffle. There will be clear losers and winners, and most disturbingly, there will be collateral damage. First, I think I should introduce you to the contenders.
In the red corner, let me introduce you to EASSy. The East African Submarine Cable System was established November 2002. It was born as a “Business Manifesto” from a November 2002 East African Business Summit, that there should a submarine cable on the East African coast, to complete the international undersea fibre loop that connects the rest of the world. It’s a partnership of East Africa’s “who’s who” in ICT and Telecommunications players including Telkom Kenya, Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited, Uganda Telecom Limited, MTN Uganda, and Zanzibar Telecommunications Limited – ZANTEL, to name a few. More here. The completed cable is to provide cheaper backhaul high speed bandwidth to the 21-member countries‘ telecommunication’s infrastructure via a newly constructed fibre-optic network of cables. Alcatel Lucent was awarded the contract to build out EASSy.
In the blue corner is the svelt, well-connected O3b Networks–O3b standing for “other 3 billion” individuals world-wide not connected by broadband. It’s a partnership backed by Google, HSBC Holdings PLC, Allen & Company, and Liberty Global. O3b’s strategy is to launch a series (17) of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites that will provide “3G/WiMAX Wireless Backhaul and IP Trunkin”—which in plainspeak means they make it cheaper for phone and internet companies to roll out high speed mobile internet and broadband to customers via satellite. Here’s something interesting, O3b Networks is helmed by none other than Greg Wyler. More on him later. Thales Alenia Space‘s satellite building expertise helped the design and launch responsibilities for O3b’s network.
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