20 January 2012

eFive ready to land SAex cable on St Helena

In an unprecedented move today eFive's new CEO Dr. Rosalind Thomas signalled readiness to land the South Atlantic Express cable at St Helena. Never has a major intercontinental submarine communications cable been landed to supply such a small community before.

However in contrast to our initial proposal due to technical reasons feeding in electric power from St Helena is infeasible and thus there are no technical benefits from landing the cable at the island for eFive. As a result costs for the construction of an unrepeatered branch to St Helena will be higher than we expected - namely in the mid single-digit million range (Pound sterling). More exact estimates of potential costs will be provided as planning proceeds.

These costs must to be considered against the background of the SAex cable having an expected lifetime of at least 20 years and the enormous social and economical benefits over this period.

Alternatively to connecting St Helena immediately during the imminent construction phase the cable system could be equipped with a pre-installed branching unit close to St Helena with a so-called "stub cable" for connection in the future. The costs would amount to 20% of the costs to make the full connection to the island. However this would have to be planned from the beginning of the construction phase. Additionally, a later landing which would involve deploying a vessel and costly data traffic restoration operations would increase the total costs by at least 30% compared to a full installation during the initial construction phase.

Given St Helena's small population of 4,200 people and the government's limited budget the project requires financial backing from the United Kingdom and potentially also from the European Union.

Broadband availability would be a key to build an IT sector with promising economic development opportunities on the island, while also improving communications, education and healthcare.

High-speed broadband would be huge for education. Not only could we make better use of online materials, but with affordable broadband teachers could develop their practice from home.
I'm an IT engineer and I would love to return to my island to start an IT business, but because of the slow, expensive and unreliable internet connection this is simply impossible.
I had to leave St Helena to study. Being 5000 miles away from my family and friends is hard. Not being able to skype with them due to the slow and expensive internet on St Helena is even harder.
Socioeconomic status is now heavily reliant on broadband penetration. With the ever-growing importance of the internet, St Helena with its limited access is in danger of being left behind.