For a week now, internet in Kenya has been slower than usual and if you are a frequent user then you have probably noticed. For those who keep up with the news and everything happening around them, you must have known this from the very beginning and adjusted accordingly. If you didn’t know or expect it then you must have been wondering why your internet connection is not as fast as it used to be. This latest occurrence has been as a result of scheduled maintenance of one of the major undersea cables that allows Kenya to connect to the rest of the world.
The East African Marine System (TEAMS) cable announced on 19th of this month that it will be undergoing maintenance from the 20th to 28th of July, preparing users to expect slow internet speeds. If you keep up with tech news and everything in-between, you probably already knew this and have been cursing underneath waiting for it all to be over. Well, if the said period is not interrupted and TEAMS cable are able to carry out their maintenance within that window of time, internet users can expect to return to normal internet speeds starting Friday.
What is TEAMS and why does its closure matter so much?
TEAMS is an undersea fibre-optic cable that connects Kenya’s town of Mombasa to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is made available as a joint venture among the Kenyan government, internet providers in Kenya and UAE’s mobile operator Etisalat. The undersea cable was opened for commercial service in October of 2009 and is connected to the Kenya national fibre backbone network and other providers, extending capacity to other east African countries.
Through TEAMS, Kenya is able to access international data links that the cable supplies and is able to enjoy fast internet speeds as it helps reduce bandwidth constraints. Before the Teams undersea cable was constructed, most internet providers had to connect to other cables such as SEACOM that did not allow for large capacities and hence the TEAMS project was born. The launch of this undersea fibre optic cable saw the country multiply the bandwidth capacity to more than four times, and the entry of 4G in Kenya has also increased uptake and allowed users to enjoy super-fast internet speeds.
But in order to maintain this high speed fibre connectivity, routine maintenance is required to ensure the connection points are not in any way interrupted. If you would remember, sometime back in 2012 government websites could not be accessed and the internet across the country was down for two weeks. This occurrence was as a result of the TEAMS cable experiencing cuts at the port of Mombasa where the connecting links end. Repair and maintenance of the cables took about four months and cost the country about 480 million, without counting the loss of business during that time internet was down.
Now the undergoing maintenance is at the port where the TEAMS cable begins in the UAE, to allow for better docking of ships without any interruption to the undersea cable. According to TEAMS, the temporary closure of the cable is for security maintenance and will cost about KSh 300 million for the process, not counting the losses in business as a result to slow internet. At a time where most businesses today and most government operations depend heavily on the internet, this temporary migration from TEAMS to other cables is expected to cause losses and affect the economy in the long run.
How TEAMS Closure Affects Business in the country
It is with no doubt that the larger part of the country relies on TEAMS fibre optic gateway for most of its internet uses. This is because most corporations, government organizations and small businesses are either connected to Safaricom’s fibre internet, Jamii Telecom, Liquid Telecom, Telkom Kenya or Wananchi Group’s internet. What is common among these fibre internet service providers is that their larger bandwidth capacity comes from their stake in the TEAMS undersea cable and without it, suffering the outcome is unavoidable.
While they may also enjoy connection to SEACOM or the other three undersea cables available, the larger bandwidth capacity allowing for faster speeds is through TEAMS. Take Safaricom for example, with a larger stake in TEAMS cable than other operators, the telco is able to enjoy more bandwidth from the government fronted undersea cable the privately- owned SEACOM. This then means that however much internet providers would want to make us believe that there is no much difference to be seen, without TEAMS cable being operational, businesses are bound to feel the pinch emanating from the temporary migration.
When the undersea cable launched in 2009, more customers in Kenya were able to enjoy faster speeds, consistency, lower internet costs than before and increased reliability. Now with every closure for maintenance, which is expected to happen every now and then in order to make sure the final outcome is smooth and secure, businesses and government organizations will have to survive slower speeds. The result of this is more losses as the other undersea cables available cannot provide the same experience of fast and consistent speeds that is possible through TEAMS cable. It then begs the question; what can be done to make sure these occurrences do not result to major losses in the long run?
For every time the TEAMS cable is closed for maintenance, the shifting back to other cables and reliance on that little available bandwidth capacity costs the country a great deal. Today everyone is connected to the internet and more businesses are realizing the importance of having an internet presence. With more people coming online for business, more bandwidth capacity will be required to provide each party with fast internet speeds. With TEAMS, this kind of experience can be readily available for potential customers. However, if the country continues to rely heavily on the one major undersea cable without a plan B cable in place that offers the same kind of experience, the economy is bound to suffer every time the cable is down.
With so many people relying on the internet for business and the government having made most of its services available online, the country cannot afford another 2012 internet downtime experience. Most organizations could not function at the time and customers complained to not being able to access various websites. The losses then must have been dire and a repeat experience today would only result to an even worse loss. The fact that Kenya heavily relies on one major internet gateway for its fibre connectivity is becoming great a risk to the country’s economy, especially with more people preferring to carry out their business and access government services online. Being that there are other undersea fibre optic cable options to connect to, internet service providers should ensure that users continue to experience a smooth running and do not have to count down the days to when TEAMS is back.