By Macharia Kamau
Landlocked countries in the region are expected to provide a huge opportunity for Internet Service Providers, with many yet to get tangible benefits.
With most of the countries with a coastline especially on the eastern seaboard of Africa having more than undersea fibre optic cables and having enormous capacity, focus is now shifting to landlocked countries that are yet to have the connectivity levels enjoyed by their neighbours with a coastline.
Internet access through the faster under sea cables has been a challenge and many users still access Internet primarily through the slower and more costly satellite connections.
There have been efforts aimed at extending the undersea fibre connectivity from the coast where the cables land, into the hinterland including landlocked countries. They still, however, remain underserved in terms high speed Internet.
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Gateway Communications, a South African headquartered wholesale ISP, said there is vast opportunity in increasing bandwidth capacity to countries that do not have a coastline.
The firm is currently looking at tapping into the land locked countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
"There is a degree of connectivity in all the countries but not as strong as Kenya, there is a huge opportunity in connecting these countries," said Paul Ziegler executive director of Carrier Services at Gateway Communications
"We are also looking at the possibility of bringing more capacity to the Democratic Republic of Congo but this will probably come from southern African countries... this will particularly be a bit of challenge because of the vast nature of the country."
He added that the firm projected demand for capacity across East Africa to double every six months in the coming years.
Other than Kenya and Uganda, other East African countries have relatively low Internet usage, with under five per cent of their populations having Internet access.
Kenya has a 10 per cent Internet penetration rate, almost at par with Uganda, where penetration stands at 9.6 per cent.
Other EAC partner states lag behind at 4.1 per cent in Rwanda while only 1.6 per cent of Tanzanians have access to Internet. Burundi has a penetration rate of 0.7 per cent.
"The only way to increase capacity in these countries is to facilitate growth of small ISPs... we are looking at partnering with local ISPs and currently we are in discussions with a number of them," said Ziegler.
He, however, adds that expectations that prices will go down are too high and users might be disappointed.
"The challenge has been getting the right commercial terms — everybody has expectations of low priced connectivity and sometimes it is difficult getting them to understand the logistics that are involved in getting capacity from the coast to the inland," he said.