Underwater fiber-optic cable on the ocean floor. [iStockphoto]

Last weekend, Kenya experienced disruptions to its digital infrastructure.

A nation whose populace has been rated among the most techno–intelligent and magnificent users of the internet, took to popular media platforms to register disappointment with internet speeds.

The internet has become an indispensable part of people’s daily lives, shaping how we communicate, work, and entertain ourselves.

Later, we learnt that we weren’t alone – the entire Eastern and Southern Africa region was lamenting with us, with Rwanda and Madagascar feared to be experiencing a total blackout.

Internet service providers clarified thereafter, that there were reparations to major subsea cables supplying broadband across the continent through the Red Sea, hence the disruptions.

Marked by streams of innovation and intense collaborations, the evolution of the Internet has been systemic and progressive.

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With its budding front in the 1960s, the internet began with a project financed by the US Department of Défence’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).

Advancements would then follow leading to the adoption of various technological transmission mechanisms, including the use of submarine internet cables laid on the sea bed or ocean floor connecting distinct continents and countries. They convey telecommunication signals; internet data, phone calls, and other digital communication.

US telecoms market research company TeleGeography documents an estimation of the presence of over 570 undersea cables around the globe, as of early 2024. Reports indicate that submarine cables account for 90 per cent of the entire Africa’s internet needs, but a majority of them are capitalised by internet jumbos such as Microsoft, Google, Meta, and Amazon.

In 2023, Kenya undertook phenomenal steps in fortifying its digital space and initiated a holistic infrastructural facelift, with landmark schemes such as the setup of digital hubs across the country. The project has eased communication and simplified commerce across digital platforms.

The East Africa Device Assembly Kenya Limited came to fruition as the first local assembling plant, located at Konza Technopolis. Another stride followed forthwith - the launch of Kenya’s first virtual university named the Open University of Kenya (OUK).

Later, another phase would see the entrance of Elon Musk’s satellite internet firm Starlink, into the Kenyan market. 

The adoption of high-altitude platforms (HAPs), that include stratospheric balloons and drones furnished with communication technology also suffices. They function at altitudes evidently higher than the traditional telecommunication towers, enabling them to cover large areas with high-speed connectivity.

Through strategic deployment of HAPs, particularly in underserved or disaster-prone regions, telecommunications firms can improve network resilience and provide uninterrupted service regardless of environmental challenges.

A further pursuit of technologies like terrestrial fibre-optic cables along with microwave links is effective for shorter-distance connections.

-The writer is a PhD candidate in leadership and governance