CamTel and China Unicom signed the Construction and Maintenance Agreement (C&MA) for the South Atlantic Inter Link (SAIL) Cable. This signing ceremony formally sets up the SAIL Consortium.
Figure 4 - SAIL Cable Map
Source: SAIL Consortium
Spanning around 6,000 km, the SAIL Cable Network will link Kribi (Cameroon) with connectivity to Fortaleza (Brazil). Using state-of-the-art 100G technology and an innovative titanium submarine repeater to achieve high performance and reliability in the transmission of multiple wavelength channel signals on multiple fibre pairs, the 100G-repeated cable system will deliver up to 32 Tb/s of capacity.
SAIL will be designed to interconnect with other cable systems in the region to maximize the throughput of data, as well as to support future upgrades. The system’s targeted Ready-for- Service in the autumn of 2018.
ANALYSIS: It is quite ironic that Angola Cables has been struggling for years to develop its SACS cable, connecting West Africa to Brazil, while not sacrificing its sovereignty to outside partners, whereas CamTel has enthusiastically embraced Chinese money (part of a much larger investment by China in Cameroonian infrastructure in return for mineral resources) and caught up with SACS in the space of ten months.
The commercial justification for building a submarine cable connecting Africa to South America is a subject of hot debate in the industry. It would seem unlikely that either continent is a major source of content for users in the other. Furthermore, the requirement for redundancy on the traditional South America-North America-Europe route does not provide sufficient demand to justify such a cable. The only justification would be if this cable had a corresponding link between Africa and Asia, bypassing the Suez Canal.
Even if the business case for an Africa-South America cable could be proven, Angola and Cameroon both seem unlikely landing points. South Africa or Nigeria would make more sense as hubs for international traffic. Angola is served by the old SAT-3 cable and the modern WACS cable system, with the ACE consortium supposedly extending the existing cable from São Tomé & Príncipe to South Africa. Cameroon is served by SAT-3 and WACS, with a regional subsea connection to Nigeria. Both Angola and Cameroon are about 6,000 kilometers away from the submarine cable hub of Fortaleza, Brazil.
While maintaining one's independence is generally a good thing, Angola takes this principle to such an extreme that realpolitik has overtaken them. It is doubtful that China Unicom has had to provide much of a business case to get approval for SAIL since it is part of the Chinese Government's "Silk Route Initiative" to develop new communications routes out of China to the rest of the world. Projects are under way to develop routes from Western China through Myanmar, Pakistan, and India, with onward connectivity through the Persian Gulf to East Africa. From there, it is not inconceivable that terrestrial fiber networks across Africa, which are becoming more of a reality by the day, will connect the East Coast with the West Coast, giving China a wholly-owned diverse route all the way to South America.
Julian Rawle, Author
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