Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2009

Kato Mivule
While Uganda struggles with corruption, lack of political will, and largely lethargy among the Top ICT Officials in the ICT Ministry, Rwanda is moving on very fast to fully utilize the SEACOM Fiber Optic Cable. Rwanda knows that this infrastructure is imperative to her Economic Stability, Growth, and even National Security Interests…

Uganda, Rwanda firms get piece of optic cable
Daily Monitor Correspondent |Nairobi | 27 August 2009

Uganda Telecom and Rwandatel have purchased up to 620 Mega bytes per second of capacity on the Seacom fibre optic cable and secured links from the landing point on the Kenyan coast through to Kampala and Kigali.
The partnership between Seacom, UTL and RTL now extends international connectivity from the undersea cable throughout East Africa.

The link to Rwanda has been made possible after Seacom secured rights to use the terrestrial networks constructed by the two players between Kampala and Kigali.

Under the terms of the deal, UTL and RTL, both subsidiaries of the Libyan Africa Portfolio LAP Green Networks will have immediate access to the Seacom capacity.

Whilst Uganda has been connected to the network since its commercial launch on July 23, Seacom CEO Brian Herlihy expects Rwanda to benefit from the broadband capacity starting next month.

Rwanda ICT Center - Image Source: http://ictpark.rita.gov.rw/index.htm

Rwanda ICT Center - Image Source: http://ictpark.rita.gov.rw/index.htm

“This development is in line with Seacom’s objective to provide connectivity solutions to landlocked countries across the East and southern African region,” said Mr Herlihy.

“The capacity purchase by Uganda Telecom will dramatically modify the local Internet market,” said Mr AbdulBaset Elazzabi, LAP Green Networks and Uganda Telecom Ltd MD.

Mr Patrick Kariningufu, chief executive of Rwandatel said; “we are excited about our deal with Seacom and look forward to delivering affordable broadband to our customers.”

Read Full Post »

Wednesday, 05 August 2009 | By Joe Powell | The Independent

July 23, 2009, 159 years after the world’s first submarine cable was laid, will go down in history as the day East Africa became fully connected to the world’s digital super-highways. Seacom’s cable, 17,000km long and costing $650 million, is now officially ‘live’ with a capacity of 1,28 Terabytes per second, the equivalent of hosting two million international phone calls simultaneously.

Unsurprisingly hyperbole was not on short supply at the launch event. Cisco’s representative announced, “We will change the way Africans work, live, learn and play with the rest of the world”. Seacom CEO Brian Herlihy urged the African youth to wake up every morning asking them “are we dreaming big enough?”  An excitable Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, speaking from Dar es Salaam live via video link, declared his country ready for “e-commerce, e-government, e-everything”.

Aggrey Awori, Minister of ICT speaking at the media launch of the SEACOM cable, on July 23, at Serena Hotel Kampala. INDEPENDENT/ BOB ROBERTS KATENDE

Aggrey Awori, Minister of ICT speaking at the media launch of the SEACOM cable, on July 23, at Serena Hotel Kampala. INDEPENDENT/ BOB ROBERTS KATENDE

However, a series of revelations have come to the attention of The Independent that threaten to take the gloss of this indisputably momentous time for telecommunications in Uganda.

The first concerns the role of Ugandan Internet provider Infocom, who alongside their sister company Kenya Data Network (KDN) have managed to secure the only fibre optic cable running from Mombasa to Kampala. Altech Stream Holdings Ltd, a South African company, took a majority stake in Infocom and KDN in March last year. However, while KDN laid their own cable from Mombasa to Malaba, Infocom is leasing the Malaba to Kampala section from the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company (UETCL), a government power utility. UETCL laid the cable primarily for power purposes, but have begun leasing out excess capacity to telecoms companies.

However, confusion has arisen over whether UETCL’s cable is being considered part of the National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure (NBI), a government project. The NBI blueprints include laying a cable from Kampala to Busia, an apparent duplication of government expenditure given the UETCL cable. The CEO of UETCL Eriasi Kyemba told The Independent that while they couldn’t agree to an ICT Ministry takeover of the cable, they would consider a leasing arrangement if approached.

Infocom’s grip over Uganda’s use of the Seacom cable is further strengthened as they have been appointed the hub provider for the country, what is known as a ‘backhold provider’. This means that companies seeking to buy bandwidth capacity will have to negotiate with Infocom, currently the only company to have a contract with Seacom. A telecoms insider talking to The Independent said this brings in clear competition concerns as Infocom are also planning to provide Internet services to consumers. While ICT Minister of State Alintuma Nsambu rejected this arrangement as clearly “not allowed”, Infocom CEO Hans Haerdtle defended his company’s position as “no different to what other countries have”. Haerdtle said he saw no problem with “Infocom competing with other operators while being a backhold provider” and cited infrastructure-sharing agreements with rival companies as evidence they could be reasonable. The Independent has learnt, however, that Infocom will be retaining exclusive rights over the countrywide network of 16 WiMAX sites, which will be able to utilise the faster Internet via microwave even while the NBI remains incomplete.

Infocom have been fortunate that rivals such as MTN and UTL invested in an alternative submarine cable, Eassy, which is running behind schedule and will not go live for at least a year. Both MTN and UTL have a superior fibre and copper network countrywide but without a deal with Seacom are in danger of being left behind.

The third submarine cable, Teams, has docked at Mombasa and is now undergoing final testing. Teams have significant investment from the Kenyan Government. Sources have confirmed that telecoms companies in Uganda are now scrambling to buy bandwidth from Seacom and Teams directly, with one senior executive telling The Independent anonymously that there is no way they would tolerate working through Infocom.

Issues surrounding the NBI are another clear concern for those wanting to take advantage of Seacom’s cable. Seacom’s representative in Uganda, Fred Moturi, told The Independent that the government would be largely responsible for laying cable to remote parts of the country, as it is unlikely the private sector would find it profitable. Currently the government has only completed cable from Kampala to Entebbe, Bombo and Jinja. “It’s almost like people never believed this would ever come to the East coast because there have been so many attempts and false starts” Moturi said. The 2,130km $106 million NBI plans in place would, though, cover a large chunk of the country, with Minister for ICT Aggrey Awori claiming the second of the four phases would be finished by the end of the year. The cost of the project has raised questions given that Rwanda was able to lay 2,300 km of fibre cable at a cost of $38 million. The company that won the Uganda contract, Huawei Technologies, donated $2 million worth of communication equipment during the tendering process.  Analysts at the time speculated that this may have been contrary to the principles of a fair tender.

Information obtained by The Independent also shows that Moturi’s fears are well founded. Cabinet documents show that the government has no money for phase IV of the project, leaving over a third of the country out of the fibre revolution. The phase IV cable is designed to stretch from Mbale through Kapchowa, Moroto, Kotido, Kitgum, Gulu, Adjumani, Arua, Nebbi, Pakwach and rejoins the network in the Amuru region. Some representatives of West Nile region said this is further evidence of government marginalisation of northern Uganda.

Areas that will be connected to the NBI are likely to witness improved economic development. Alongside business development, improved connectivity has huge potential in the education and healthcare sectors. In preparation for the cable’s arrival upcountry Nsambu said that all government secondary schools will have IT laboratories by the end of the year. For Uganda as a whole the arrival of Seacom’s capacity, which will be joined by rival submarine cables Teams and EASSy within the next year, means the country will be able to compete with South Asia in areas such as call centres, business outsourcing and software development. A recent World Bank study found that for every ten percentage points increase in connectivity a country can expect a 4.6% increase in exports and a 1.3% bump in GDP. The business community, who currently pay in the region of $5000 per megabit per month to access the Internet by satellite, will also welcome the reduced costs.

In comparison Seacom wholesale at between $50-150 for the same access, although with Infocom taking their cut the retail price is likely to be higher.

The Independent has learnt, though, that there is another risk to Uganda’s digital future. Currently there are no plans in place to build a second link to the Mombasa landing sites of the three planned submarine cables. Uganda’s over-reliance on links through Kenya has been exposed twice in recent years, with the fuel shortages of January 2008 after the Kenyan election violence and the tearing up of the rail link by thugs in Kibera over the Migingo island bilateral dispute. Nsambu revealed that the satellite infrastructure would be kept in place as a back up in case of any interruption. President Kikwete also announced plans for terrestrial cable to run from Dar es Salaam to Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, although no timescale was placed on the project.

Uganda's Fiber Optic Cable Layout

Uganda's Fiber Optic Cable Layout

The ICT Ministry is planning a new Bill to address some of these issues, with Awori promising it will be tabled within 45 days. According to Nsambu the Bill seeks to provide the necessary regulation to ensure that the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) can effectively manage the new services.

The ministry itself has been the subject of speculation over whether it has the funding and personnel to effectively run the country’s ICT sector. At the last budget it received only Shs6.5 billion, by far the lowest allocation of any ministry and amounting to 0.1% of the government’s total spending. This is partially offset as the UCC is supposed to take 1% of the profit of each telecoms company, the majority of which is directed at ICT in government schools. The appointment of Awori as the cabinet minister for ICT also raised eyebrows in the industry, with the popular and knowledgeable Ham Mulira shifted to presidential advisory duties.

Despite the complications uncovered by The Independent this should remain a time for optimism in Uganda’s ICT sector. The arrival of high-speed Internet will revolutionise the way of doing business for those able to use it. However, until questions of ownership, security, upcountry access and the role of Infocom are cleared up, there will continue to be scepticism over the extent of the benefits Ugandans will receive.

Read Full Post »

Ham Mulira |18 August 2009 | All Africa

Analysis

The National Fibre Optic Backbone Project has recently been the discussion topic in the Parliamentary Committee on ICT and the Ministry of ICT where clarifications on the project were sought. There is evident need to articulate what the project is about, what it means to the country and the region together with a clear understanding of the technology and related financial aspects.

Uganda's ICT Cheif

Dr. Ham Mulira - Uganda's ICT Chief

In the current business environment, Information Systems, the Internet and global communication networks are creating new opportunities for organisational coordination and innovation. Such systems, used in government/governance, can extend reach and effectiveness of both to remote locations, and improve service delivery to citizens. Current practice has been satellite based communication links, but the associated costs are prohibitive and result in minimised access size of paths, (bandwidth) leading to slow Internet speeds, for example.

In order to address the above, the government of Uganda, through the Ministry of ICT, decided to implement the National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure and e-Government Infrastructure (NBI/EGI) project for high speed communications. This entails laying of Fibre Optic Cables and installation of related equipment, which include switches, optical transmission equipment, data communication equipment, fixed network equipment, video equipment, computers, servers, training and service.

Ultimately, the fibre optic cable will link Uganda to the submarine cables on the East African coast providing access to the rest of the world through Kenya. The project has two key components namely-, the National Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) and the e-Government Infrastructure (EGI), to be implemented in three Phases at a total contract cost of $106m.

Phase I was for e-Government Infrastructure and its objective was to provide connectivity to government ministries and departments including high-tech communication services called TETRA for Uganda Police with a total cost of $30 million. It should be noted that this component was designed for internal government use, commonly referred to as Government-to-Government services and not for general public usage. Since the phase was to connect ministries, only Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja and Bombo were connected with a total distance of 168 km of laid fibre and related equipment.

Phases II and III of the NBI constitute the remaining areas of the country (see map figure 1) including establishing a high tech government data centre. A backbone is like a digital highway or main road, it covers enough locations strategically spaced across the country from which links can be established to serve the surrounding areas.

Similarities can be drawn with the telecommunication masts strategically located to establish communication signals that serve the surrounding areas. You do not have to stand near a telecom mast to make a phone call. The NBI is intended to ensure availability of high bandwidth data connection across Uganda at reasonable rates and can be used for government service delivery, schools, hospitals, businesses, homes and ultimately the general public. When mobile telephones were introduced, the costs and services were unaffordable to the majority.

As the technology evolved and infrastructure spread, a dramatic cost reduction led to increased affordability by the public with over nine million customers today. In addition, a variety of innovative services using the mobile phone have been introduced. Similarly, when the submarine cables are linked to the NBI there shall be widespread availability of high speed communications at a fraction of current costs leading to Internet and related services being affordably accessible to the public. Phases II and III shall cover 1,900 kms at a cost of $61 million and $15 million, respectively.

In planning, designing and sizing a national backbone project many factors have to be considered. These include the terrain, geographical spread/coverage, fibre capacity to meet potential demand based on size of the target population, costs of civil works amongst others. For example, laying 10km of fibre in the countryside is quite different to laying 10km of cable in the built-up urban areas.

In terms of geographical spread/coverage, the technology used to cover communication signals over a long distance between sites is different from that across areas that are nearer to each other. In comparison, the electric wire for a light bulb hanging in a room is not what determines the intensity of light emitted, it is the power of the bulb that does so, hence, a wider room requires higher wattage/power. The demand in terms of numbers of potential users determines the power of the fibre cable in terms of traffic it can handle simultaneously. It is, therefore, erroneous to simply compare costs of one project to another without considering a multitude of factors.

In the discussions, direct comparison of costs between the Uganda project and that of Rwanda were made asking why the Ugandan one is $126 million for 2,100 kms and the latter $38 million for 2,300 kms (in some reports it is 1,300 kms).

First, the contracted cost of the Uganda project implementation for the laying of the fibre, equipment and training, inter alia, as per the loan, has a total of $54 million for the e-Government component ($30 million in Phase I and $24 million in Phases II & III) and the National Backbone Infrastructure is $62 million totalling to $106 million. The additional $20 million is counterpart funding by government, which includes taxes and clearing.

As per standard practice, taxes are always budgeted for in government procurements, although they are not actual physical money paid out, they are accounting book entries. The figure of $38 million for the Rwanda project, which has been continuously reflected in the discussions is the contract cost and may not reflect the other costs such as taxes and clearing. The comparison should strictly be on the NBI components which is the $62 million against the $38 million since the Rwanda project does not include the e-Government infrastructure component.

National backbone projects are designed to cater for current and future needs of the country for several decades since once the fibre is laid the traffic capacity can be increased by changing the devices that send the traffic not the fibre. In the light bulb wire example, it is like changing to a more powerful light bulb not the wire. The cable capacity is the amount of traffic, which it can handle simultaneously and it is measured as the number of signals per second or Bits Per second.

Each country bases its requirements on the potential demand, which is determined by the size of population and geographical spread. Consequently, the technologies used are different. In Uganda, because of the relatively larger geographical spread and a larger population with potentially higher traffic demand, there is need to send signals across sites, which are relatively far from each other whilst catering for higher traffic.

For example, a signal from Kampala to Gulu, which is about 330kms requires more intermediary “boosters” to ensure that the signal does not lose strength. The fibre cable laid is 24 core or strands of fibre and in Uganda the technology for the stations is largely what is called Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM), which combines and transmits multiple signals simultaneously using the same fibre, in effect, transforming one fibre into multiple virtual fibres increasing the capacity of the physical cable.

This technology has a traffic carrying capacity of 2.5 Gb/s or two and a half billion signals per second on one fibre strand. The alternate technology is called Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH), which has a capacity of 155.2 million signals per second. In other words, DWDM has 16 times more capacity. The current population in Uganda is about 30 million and estimated to rise to over 40 million by 2017 according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics with a wider geographical spread. There is, therefore, more need for the DWDM technology, hence, relatively higher costs.

Another aspect of the discussion is the cutting of the cable. In laying fibre cable, just like other projects with routes on main roads, certain standards are set including the distance off the main road and depth of the cable. Implementation of the NBI coincided with major road works along certain routes, especially, Jinja and Bombo roads leading to cable being accidentally cut in some cases.

This issue was addressed through joint coordination between the Ministry of ICT and the Ministry of Works and Housing together with relevant agencies but the problem would still re-occur on ground but systematically resolved. However, the NBI was designed with Resilient Packet Rings to ensure that should a breakdown occur, the traffic can automatically be re-routed.

In conclusion, the NBI/EGI project is vital in preparing the country for full participation in the new Information Age. All countries in the region are at various stages of implementing national backbones which will ultimately link into each other for regional communications connectivity. As in any project, it has had expected setbacks but these would continue to be addressed and resolved.

A comparison based on total project cost divided by total distance is misleading as has been portrayed above. The Table shows a comparison of submarine cables being built on the east coast of Africa. In fact, using such an approach leads to known costs per km ranging from $15,000 to US$ 500,000 per km depending on location, from a countryside project to New York City.

It is unfortunate to state that costs were inflated a conclusion based on a simple comparison of two project costs. Not only is this categorically untrue but also makes one wonder how such statements can be made with impunity totally disregarding the significant contribution of a number of people who have played roles in a professional and transparent manner to make this project a success.

Uganda was the first in the region to implement the e-Government Infrastructure with voice, data and video communications across government and delegations from many African countries visited the project to understudy it. In other countries such national achievements are recognised with pride and built upon not ridiculed, we should always endeavour to objectively assess such matters in the task of national development.

The writer is the Senior Presidential Advisor on ICT

Read Full Post »

Kato Mivule

Corruption, negligence, and a lack of accountability are hampering Uganda’s growth in I.T and will certainly make Uganda lose her place as a regional I.T power in the East African region. With many IT folks unemployed and under employed, Uganda’s government cannot put together a project worse even accomplishing a simple IT project like setting up a Computer Resource Center in a rural area…

Another $1m Internet project in jeopardy
Daily Monitor | News | August 9, 2009 | Yasiin Mugerwa

Corruption and negligence has bungled a planned $1 million government rural Internet project seeking to establish business information centres in the countryside communities, MPs heard last week.

Angry MPs on the Information and Communication Technology Committee, also gave the sector minister, Aggrey Awori and his junior colleague Alintuma Nsambu, 48 hours to explain why the costs of a $126 million (about Shs252 billion) National ICT backbone infrastructure project were reportedly inflated.

“The new District Business Information Centres (DBICs) Project has flopped due to negligence and corruption. These people in the ministry have turned this project into a conduit for them to waste public money,” Mr Ssebuliba Mutumba (DP, Kawempe South), one of the committee members said yesterday.

“They supplied computers and other equipment to various districts, but were not connected, no testing done, no mini-servers and have been deserted on the floors with dust yet we spent billions. We are yet to get the explanation why they inflated costs of the National ICT backbone and here we are with another project mishandled the same way and the ministry is doing nothing.”

The uncertainty over the new rural Internet project puts the ministry’s credibility in spotlight after Daily Monitor reported two weeks ago that the same Committee had queried the $126 million cost for the 2,130km project national ICT backbone project, arguing that Rwanda is carrying out a similar project across 2,300km for only $38 million (about Shs76 billion). To substantiate their claims, the MPs showed Mr Awori and his team, footage of the neglected equipment, idle at various centres in the districts of Mityana, Iganga and Busia. Other districts which were supposed to benefit from the project include; Kamwenge, Lira and Rukungiri. After viewing the “footage of shame” as the MPs described it, minister Awori, who only came to the ministry in the February Cabinet reshuffle, apologised to the committee. The post was previously held by Mr Ham Mulira.

“We sincerely do apologise to the committee, the contractors who won the tender didn’t play their role and as a ministry, we are going to take action to correct these faults. There should have been a follow-up but this wasn’t done.”

Some MPs led by Ishaa Otto (UPC, Oyam South) cited duplication in the project under scrutiny after it emerged that the establishment of District Business Information Centres is closely linked with the e-government initiative, which was covered under the disputed National ICT backbone project.

“We welcome the idea of the rural ICT project, but this is covered under the National ICT backbone. We are talking about Shs2 billion going to waste and all this is duplication intended to abuse public funds,” Mr Otto said.

“We have given them 48 hours to give us all the information relating to these two projects otherwise we see corruption and negligence pulling us down yet we need ICT to develop as a country.”

Once the project succeeds, DBICs shall be the first of its kind as a government response to the challenge of enhancing productivity and fighting digital marginalisation.
The Committee has ordered Mr Awori to appear before it on Thursday with a written explanation as to why the rural internet project has delayed and who was responsible for the supervision of the project.

Read Full Post »

Kato Mivule | August 4, 2009

Uganda’s Broadband future and hopes for Cheap High Speed Internet hand on a shoe string after the Ugandan Government could not account for funds used in the ‘Phase One’ for the High Speed Fiber Optic Cable Infrastructure.

Uganda’s Legislative Body has refused to release funds for the ‘Phase Two’ of the project citing graft and lack of accountability.

Telecom Workers Laying Cable in Kampala - Photo Source: Daily Monitor

Telecom Workers Laying Cable in Kampala - Photo Source: Daily Monitor

The worst fears is that even when the High Speed Fiber Optic Infrastructure is fully complete, Ugandans might never get cheap High Speed Internet as Government Officials will seek to setup fake middlemen companies that will even make it harder for poor folks to access Broadband Internet.

As usual when Uganda takes three steps forward, they regress and take another four steps back courtesy of Uganda’s Government officials who seem to have no remorse and sense of decency…

Inflated costs set to delay faster Internet
Daily Monitor | News | August 4, 2009 | Yasiin Mugerwa

Ugandans may have to wait longer for the broadband revolution after Parliamentarians refused to approve Shs122 billion for the second phase of a countrywide Information and Communication Technology (ICT) backbone infrastructure project, citing corruption and inflation of costs in the first phase of the project.

Legislators on the ICT Committee of Parliament last week questioned the $126 million (about Shs252 billion) cost for the national ICT project, arguing that Rwanda is carrying out a similar project across 2,300km for only $38 million (about Shs76 billion).

“We want the Auditor General to look at the cost of this project. Otherwise, Uganda cannot spend more than Shs252 billion yet our neighbours in Rwanda and Kenya are spending less amounts on a similar project,” Mr Ishaa Otto (UPC, Oyam South), an ICT committee member, told Daily Monitor on Friday.

The development comes barely a month before Uganda upgrades its Internet communication speeds to levels enjoyed in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and now Kenya through undersea cables providing broadband technology.

Experts expect broadband, which refers to high data rate Internet access, to reduce the cost of Internet bandwidth by up to 70 per cent. The legislators have also summoned ICT Minister Aggrey Awori to provide a detailed account of how the Shs60b budgeted for Phase I of the project was spent.

The 2,130 kilometre project aims to speed up e-governance by providing a basic communication link to rural communities and improving service delivery in key areas such as health, education and agriculture.

In an interview on Saturday, Mr Awori said, “We didn’t inflate any costs. The comparison with Rwanda doesn’t arise because for us we are dealing with excavations and laying the cable at the same time. This makes the costs higher than that of Rwanda and we are different.”

According to project details obtained by Daily Monitor, Phase I was budgeted at $30 million (about Shs60b), Phase II at $61m (about Shs122b) and Phase III at $15m (about Shs30b) with an additional $20m (about Shs40b) budgeted as government counterpart funding.

After spending Shs60b for Phase I in the 2007/2008 financial year, the government has requested Parliament to approve an additional Shs122b to start Phase II. But MPs led by Chairperson Mr Nathan Igeme Nabeta have blocked more funding to the ICT project until the ICT ministry accounts for the Shs60b spent under Phase I.

The first phase of the project covered Kampala, Entebbe, Bombo and Jinja. Although it was completed last year, MPs who carried out a field visit on Wednesday found that only the Kampala site is operational.

Mr Otto reported that when the committee visited the project sites in Kampala, Mukono, Jinja, and Bombo last Wednesday, it saw nothing but corruption at its best. “After spending Shs60b budgeted for Phase I, there is nothing to show on the ground. The new fibre cable linking Kampala to Mukono and Jinja was cut off, the inter-connection centres were non-operational with no power and the generators were missing,” said Mr Otto.

The Director of Communications and Broadcasting Infrastructure in the ICT Ministry, Eng. Godfrey Kibuuka, who represented the ministry during the tour, reportedly failed to explain why the Mukono, Jinja and Bombo sites were not working. Eng. Kibuuka could not also explain the alleged inflated costs of the project.

Mr Awori told Daily Monitor, “We got problems with connections because our cable was cut at Namanve but we are handling this matter.”

Mr Nabeta said, “We appreciate the need for this ICT backbone, but we cannot approve more money without explaining what happened with the $30m for phase I. We want this project to succeed and we want the faults to be corrected.” But Mr Awori retorted: “It is not true that there is no value for money because 90 per cent of the e-government facility is functioning. It is only the commercial part which is not working because we are yet to connect to the sub-marine.”

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: