Seacom will look to the cloud to expand its local offering and help keep African content on the continent.
The shape of a “New Internet” is beginning to emerge in Africa, and Seacom’s recent statement that it is set to launch cloud computing services for the continent is pivotal to the movement.
This is according to World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck, who says the announcement slots neatly into the trend analysts have been forecasting for the last year or so: “that the supply of undersea cable capacity is now in a phase of ‘crossing the chasm’ from an early adopter market to a mass market”.
Mark Simpson, CEO of the undersea telecommunications cable provider, told ITWeb Africa in an interview this week that the company had established a subsidiary, Pamoja, which will build cloud computing infrastructure in Africa. “It’s still in proof-of-concept stage, but we have invested a fair bit already, putting about another $1 million into infrastructure in Kenya and SA.”
Pamoja is an aggregator of cloud services that brings the most relevant of these to the African continent. With access to dedicated Seacom bandwidth between Africa and Europe, Pamoja says it is able to deliver internationally-based cloud services to Africa as locally-connected services – without end-users having to bear international bandwidth costs.
The rationale behind Seacom extending its traditionally wholesale broadband services to the cloud, says Simpson, is steeped in its aspiration of keeping African content in Africa. “[Cloud will] help Africans produce their own content, such as mobile applications, that can be accessed by those on the continent and the rest of the world.”
Ultimately, Simpson says, Seacom is shifting its focus and will start looking into offering “other services”. Goldstuck points out that the cloud is not a service as such, but a catch-all for the range of value-added services that must be built on the data layer.
Business model makeover
Goldstuck says, during the crossover of subsea cables from an early adopter to a mass market, supply is rising dramatically – while cost constraints keep take-up relatively low.
Under these circumstances, he points out, it becomes difficult for undersea cable companies to generate enough volume with high enough margins to provide investors with a return on investment.
“The result is that their business models must evolve, or they can find themselves going out of business, or engaged in fire sales. The same applies to mobile network operators: as the shift from voice to data accelerates even while margins on data decline they must build value-added services on top of their data pipes or streams, or see their businesses fall into the chasm.”
Since launching on Africa’s east coast, in 2009, Seacom “has always been creative and flexible in its business models”, according to Goldstuck. He says, consequently, it comes as no surprise it is one of the first to make the cloud a key element of its business. “But you see it at the more enterprising data centres, like Teraco, as well.”
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