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The Internet

African Optical Backbone "Ring of Fire" 181

evilandi wrote in to send us a nifty bit from BBC Sci/Tech about Africa's Ring of Fire. Essentially its a fiber cable that will circle the continent and provide 40gbs net access all around. The cable will be laid by robotic subs and the article says it will be self healing. All this for a mere $1.2 Billion.
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African Optical Backbone "Ring of Fire"

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    If this wasn`t on the BBC site I wouls have said "what a load of crap!"
    I would have thought that Africa would be the last place to introduce this technology(self repairing cable, miniature robots etc.).
    When Nelson Mandela calls a clockwork radio the greatest invention of the century I cant see the demand for this technology!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I take it there are plans for an Eschelon listening post somewhere on the ring?
  • The reasons for laying an underwater cable are probably neither technical nor geographical, but political:

    An underwater cable is a damn lot more difficult for people to sabotage.

    And Africa isn't exactly known for stable governments,...

    Would you invest a billion or more on a cable that some government or rebel movement would cut whenever they see fit?

    However, not many of the likely troublemakers posess submarines :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Unless Egypt has changed remarkably in the last 6 years since I was last there, I doubt it's in much condition to take advantage of this 'ring of fire' either. Egypt has it's share of problems with political and religious unrest, and has had it's share of fundamentalist murders on both the islamic and christian side of the fence, though not on the scale of butcheries that happen in Zaire and the Congo region in general. Cairo has to be one of the most unpleasant cities in the world. Running wire infrastructure there is an utter nightmare - there are essentially no accurate maps of underground or above ground wiring, pipes, sewage. The foreign aid project to construct a subway there ran into endless problems where they could barely dig half a foot without hitting something that wasn't in the map. A fiber internet link does little good if it can't actually be brought directly to someone's home.

    None the less, the real block to this being a useful innovation for the majority of Africa's population is that the majority are worrying about something other than fast internet access. When only the very fortunate have computers or enough to eat for that matter, it's pretty hard to make use of net access!

    Things may have evolved somewhat since my time in Africa, but from my three years in Zimbabwe I can count on both hands the number of computers I saw during that time there. Even if the number has gone up by 100X or more, still it's only available to the very rich. I'm forced to agree that there are better things to spend money on. However, this -may- lead to some investments in companies looking to put fast web servers and ecommerce sites somewhere with low taxes and little government intervention. Whether this is a good thing or not is something to be debated, since it represents companies and or individual conducting a roundabout method of tax evasion. I don't like taxes any more than the next AC, but they keep the roads paved... And I'm not sure if the presence of the servers in these countries would represent any noticeable increase in their revenues, as their unlikely to pay much in the way of taxes and aside from a small on site maintenance team there would be little in the way of local hires.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    go to wired.com check out 'mother earth mother board'.

    ps 1.6 billion is the cost of 2 stealth bombers.
    ill let you decide which accomplishment is worth
    more and will bring more security to the world.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    So what's with all these phrases like "pearls to the pigs" popping up in replies? And references to guys in grass huts? A lot of people seem to be lumping the entire African continent under this outdated "primitive savages" label.

    Here in the U.S., we have a corrupt congress, huge numbers of people living below the poverty line, and a whole lot of people dying of AIDS. Does that mean we shouldn't be connected to the rest of the world via the internet?

    I have news for you. Africa contains a lot of different places, all of them different, and practically none of them conform to this absurdly stereotyped notion of Africa some folks seem to have.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Self-Healing" doesn't imply some kind of Borg technology. It simply means the network is maintained by automatic re-routing.

    The Africa project has been in the works for some time. Check IEEE Magazine 1996 (June I think) for articles about Undersea Fiber-Optic Cable systems (Africa, FLAG, TAT, etc.)
  • Well, I don't think he was attacking people for speaking with clicks, but rather that if someone only speaks a language such as Ibo (one of the many languages of Nigeria), they're going to have a hard time on the Internet considering there aren't many sites in Ibo.
  • by bano ( 410 )
    My mom always told me to eat all my food cuz there were starving kids in ethopia.(good then they can eat my left over blackeye peas then...)
    But Why spend $1.4billion for the very few that will be effected by it. These people can barely afford to live. Whynot spend the money to improve farming and irrigation.
  • It always amazes me how Slashdotters/Linux advocates manage to work Microsoft into everything, even the most unrelated topics.
  • Not to mention the whole/hole mixup and the cel/cell misspelling in other articles today.
  • You should take a minute and realize that many people here are posting in their second or even third language. Get off your high horse and be a little more tolerant.)

    CmdrTaco's first language is English, unless I'm badly mistaken, so that's not an excuse.
  • ...just a well-placed bomb. They certainly have access to them.
  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    Taco, check again dude, it's 1.6 billion, not 1.2

    >>The optic-fibre cable is long enough to circle the Earth and will be laid by robotic submarines. The project will cost $1.6 billion and aims to be completed in
    2002.

    LK
  • by gavinhall ( 33 )
    Posted by stodge:

    Why spend the money on this when they can't afford to feed the people in parts of Africa, and when wars still rage there? Why?

    Sure they could connect to the Internet at 2Mb/s to send an email, but they can't feed half of the population in central Africa. Cynical? No, but the idea is.

  • Posted by stodge:

    No I didn't know that about Iowa. Fascinating (no really I mean that).

    As someone else put it, "Hey HIV+ is prevalent in Africa, but don't worry, you have fast Internet access!"

  • Posted by stodge:

    Good point, I hang my head in shame. We forget parts of the deep south. Guess I've seen too many BBC reports on war and famine in Africa.
  • by pohl ( 872 )
    This sounds like an excellent investment. I'm a little dismayed at some of the responses here in this forum, however. While the observations about government corruption in many African nations is true, the suggestion that the corruption/governments be fixed first is just plain silly. You can't fix a government without an informed citizenry or without putting the power of expression in the hands of the citizens.
  • by pohl ( 872 )
    In an ideal world, I would want these problems to be resolved first as well. Unfortunately, you won't get the food & education to the people so long as the governments are corrupt. It's better to empower those who are able to read and build from there.
  • "I can't believe some of the shameful comments by /.ers about spending the money on other projects before spending on technology."

    Why is it so shameful to believe that there might be a more effective way to spend money on Africa? Now, according to the article, the cable system may end up saving hundreds of millions of dollars a year. If so, then the project is undoubtedly a winner, since the money will be paid back in short order. Improvements to the phone system may help bring the economic development that is needed in Africa.

    However, your characterization of the naysayers is extremely unfair. Their argument is not "Wah, how come they get fast modems before me", it's "perhaps distributing vitamins with folate to pregnant African women would be a better way of spending the money."

    85% of African countries have a per capita income of $785/year or less, according to http://www.rrojasdatabank.free-online.co.uk/incafr ic.htm . Given that, I don't think it's ridiculous to question whether $1.6 billion could be more effectively spent on other things.
  • Maybe if you refrained from the f word, you wouldn't get moderated to -1?
  • If I look closely, I see that Greenland has about 3-4 dots, some of are in the very north. I sincerely doubt that the few hunters there are in a dire need of fiber optics network...

    J.
  • This is indeed a great article. The printable version [wired.com] is easier to read, IMHO, since it doesn't involve relentless clicking.
    --
  • Slashdot moderators may indeed be racist. But at best (and at worst) they reflect the users of slashdot. Moderators are chosen largely at random.
    In my opinion this is the greatest weakness of the moderation system since it amplifies conformist views. The net effect is

    --
  • Right now, i feel ashamed to be a part of the /. community. I don't know which is worse: the racist stereotyping, or the illogical cost/benefit analysis. Bigotry and stupidity.

    First, the racism. Not all Africans are primitives living in huts. Not all African nations are embroiled in civil war. Famines are a result of war and the resultant refugees, not poverty. Africans are not cannibals. Et cetera.

    Second, the cost/benefit analysis of the undersea cable. Aren't slashdotters supposed to be technology experts who understand the value of electronic communications? Don't you think phones and the Internet are useful for something other than downloading porn and Quake betas? Africa's economic growth is hampered mostly by the lack of a modern communications infrastructure. Inexpensive bandwidth is the most critical feature of any modern economy. Until it is available throughout most of Africa, the African economies will be unable to modernize and compete with the rest of the world.

    Think of Buckminster Fuller's formula: Wealth equals Energy times Information. And, as Fuller pointed out, Information can be replicated at whatever bandwidth is available, so the better the bandwidth, the more quickly wealth will increase. It really dismays me to see people saying that Africa shouldn't spend money on creating (not expanding, CREATING!) a modern communications infrastructure, because there are other pressing needs. That sounds like obsolete liberal crap to me, a guaranteed means to keep Africa broken and dependent forever. I can't think of a more pressing need than to be able to communicate freely with each other and the rest of the world.

    Which reminds me... many of the more creative pseudo-intellectuals here suggest that Africa cannot get, should not get, or does not deserve a good communications infrastructure because of its corrupt governments. Think about it... what's the most effective tool for fighting government corruption and abuse yet devised? Communication! Governments cannot control widely available phones, much less the Internet. Governments that allow open communications cannot oppress effectively; governments that suppress communications will not benefit effectively from communications, and will fall behind. It worked in the USSR, and it will work in Africa.

    This undersea fiber optic cable project is an incredibly useful venture, which if it succeeds will reap rewards far in excess of its initial cost. Personally, i'm thrilled for Africa.

    But i'm more disappointed than ever in the supposedly intelligent, considerate, and technologically savvy denizens of Slashdot.
  • by acb ( 2797 )
    I read that Nigeria's second-largest foreign-revenue source (after oil) is mail fraud (i.e., the "Nigerian letter" scams). There is a core of highly skilled confidence tricksters expert at parting otherwise savvy Western businessmen from their money through the mail.

    Wonder whether this means that once Nigeria has broadband Internet access, it will become the world leader in MLM schemes and spam...
  • <CONSPIRACY-THEORY>
    Perhaps once Monsanto has eliminated non-terminated crops from Africa, and the Africans are entirely dependent on international corporations for their very subsistence, they can be marshalled into a massive cheap data-entry force, doing menial shitwork over the Net at a fraction of the cost of Western labour. Now that Asian standards of living are rising to the levels of middle-class consumer society, it's about time someone found a new source of technoserfs.
    </CONSPIRACY-THEORY>
  • There could be geographical reasons for this; possibly such locations make convenient sites for base stations or other infrastructure...
  • How will that work? Will the CDMA base stations be under the sea as well? (Is it feasible to locate microwave transmitters underwater?) Will they be on uninhabited islands or floating platforms?
  • Africa One [africaonesystem.com] are the company running the show. Their site has some reasonably detailed technical and geographical info, but is a bit short on where exactly they are going to get US$1.2bn from.

    I think it's a great idea but I have a couple of worries:

    • Doesn't Africa have more urgent things to spend the money on? And will the money be lost through backhanders or government mis-spending anyway?
    • I really can't believe that an undersea cable is the most cost effective, neither in the short nor long term. And won't inland countries need a connection too? A network of cross-country cable or microwave links would surely be a better plan (feel free to shoot me down here on technical or geographical grounds!)

    Having said that, the project could revolutionise Africa in a million and one positive ways.

    --

  • I don't think it is racism, I think it has more to do with people who's only view of Africa is the Sahara desert, rainforests, slash-and burn agriculture, famine, AIDS statistics, South African politics and all the other stuff we pick up from CNN and CCF ads.

    As for the "Pearls to the pigs" analogy... I'm just going to assume that it was just a very poor choice of words.

    I think people are a bit shocked that money is being poured into communications infrastructure when people in North America are being innundated with ads to sponsor African children for food and vaccines. I think they expect to see money poured into food, water and electricity. I'm also pretty ignorant of the economics of Africa... but at least I'm keeping my mouth shut on concerning whether or not Africa needs the upgrade.


  • I don't think that using CDMA to get connectivity to land is going to get around the various governments. I'm consulting on an ISP setup in Nigeria, and I can tell you that the communications ministry makes you get a permit for everything involved with communications signals- whether you're sending _or_ recieving. For example, a satellite dish requires a permit.

    Besides- how will the wireless signal get from the fiber link to land? I can't imagine that they're going to build offshore platforms for transmission equipment. They're most likely going to bring the fiber onland at each landing point and connect in to a local provider.

    Once the fiber is on land, the national providers might well use wireless technologies to provide connectivity- most African countries use microwave relays.

    Robbie
  • The trend lately has been to lay cable across the ocean and back again so as to have a loop, in case one segment gets eaten by a shark.
  • Yeah, this came out around the time we were all talking about GBLX buying US West. Wow, that BBC is fast.
  • This is from the Global Crossing press release:

    "Africa ONE will save hundreds of millions of dollars in transit fees now being paid by African carriers to complete calls via Europe."

    All this bellyaching about people starving in Africa misses the point. They're already starving, to pay European telcos to complete intra-African long-distance calls.

  • I read a column by someone who works at the University of Zambia. According to her, copper is useless in Africa because of the weather (lightning, floods etc.) and because the locals dig it up and sell the metal.
  • I agree, Having been to Nigeria twice to visit my parents I can say with experience that this could be a problem. In Nigeria NEPA (Nigerian Electrical Power Authority) really stands for Never Expect Power Again, and NiTel the national phone company has horrible lines in and out. When I was there about 1.5 years ago I stayed in a company compound with 5 leased lines going out. Only two or three of them were capable of handeling 2400 or greater bps! Now granted I think such a thing would be great! I would have loved to have internet access while there! I know that my experience does not talk for the whole of Africa, but it helps to shed some light on some of the potentialy bad problems. Besides let's not forget that many of the countries in West Africa have corrupt governments, and many get rich quick scams come from projects like this!

    The most postitive thing I can think of for this would be that it would have the potential to bring Africa closer to the rest of the world, and that it might help to educate the people a little more and encourage grass-roots reform.

    Africa is an amazing place and the people are some of the most friendly I have met anywhere in the world, I just don't trust some of the people in power.
  • Unfortunately, the bulk of African governments are so backwards and corrupt that this will not make one whit of difference in the lives of most of the continent's people. Only a few bureaucrat/kleptocrat types and/or businessmen will be in a position to benefit from better connectivity.

    What Africa needs is better governments first. Then fiber optics can be useful to the people.

    Remember - half the world has never made a phone call.
  • Read the info on the AfricaOne page. A lot of the continent is currently connected via the 'PANAFTEL' network, which is a series of Microwave towers. They claim that the weather in Africa is so crappy that this network has proved unreliable.

    RASCOM is another, rural based connectivity network.

    AfricaOne will supercede both of these.
  • Perhaps I should have expressed myself more clearly. It's stated that the ring was done with a mere 1.2 billion. To somebody like Gates, that's practically like a drop in the bucket. So what would stop him from laying a few of those FireRings around other places. MS could then sell off chunks of it to ISP as long as they Support Windows Only. Heck they could even be as evil as forcing a windows-type client to connect. The potential behind something that large for a mere 1.2 billion kind of set me back so I though I would mention it in the "Comments" section. "Turn your computer into a gameboy... type win at the C:>"

    -=- Leviat -=-
  • If I had $100 billion dollars and it only cost me 1.2 billion to put a huge fibre ring around a continent, I would be all over that. Do you know how much money that would pay back once different ISPs started bidding for chunks of it. Man... anyone want to lend a few billion? =)


    -=- Leviat -=-
  • I eagerly look forward to the day that Godwin's law covers Microsoft mentions on Slashdot.
  • Thats great, as long as you have only ONE break. I would be a very unhappy camper if I was on Madagascar and the cable got broke to the north & south of me. The ability to reroute the packet requests is not a "self healing" technology. After all ARPANET used adaptive routing back in the late 60's early 70's, which if I'm not mistaken is the SAME concept. Maybe "self-healing" is just a new catch word being used by hardware manufacturers just to promote sales. Think of it the money to be made.
  • And just how many services are controlled by computers in African countries ? I believe pencil and paper are still Y2K compliant.

    I agree that airline radar poses a problem, as Y2K testing in Africa will probably only during the week between Christmas and New Year.
  • That radio is marvellous. Half and hour of audio from a couple minutes of winding, it's amazing. You have no idea how much people in the outlying African areas rely on their radios. They don't have TV and probably don't have electricity so they depend on batteries. How would you like spending 20% of your monthly salary on batteries just to keep your radio going ? Batteries are really expensive (in South Africa at least).

    You must understand that for Mandela it really is a big thing: he probably only had radio while imprisoned for 20+ years. It may not be the greatest invention of the century to you: but to a people of whom many don't even have toilets it may just be the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's a big step forward for creating devices that do not rely on an expensive power source.

  • Tell that to the people who are starving to death

  • by WillWare ( 11935 ) on Wednesday June 23, 1999 @08:38AM (#1837661) Homepage Journal
    A lot of posts are arguing that the Ring of Fire is a bad idea. I think it's a good idea, so here are some counterarguments.
    • Africa is technologically backward, and doesn't deserve the technology. We should put it somewhere more progressive, where it will be appreciated, and contribute to progress. But the more developed countries have plenty of bandwidth, and will get more as time passes. The details of financing weren't clear, but there wasn't any clear evidence that this was being done at the expense of progress in the developed countries. Even if it is, on a global scale, this really isn't that much money.
    • African countries have corrupt governments, which will skim the money, and the network might never even go on-line. Yes, that's a realistic danger. That risk is assumed by whoever is financing the network, and hopefully they've insured themselves against that risk.
    • The problems of hunger and poverty are much more important than giving Africans the opportunity to web-surf. The money should go to organizations like CARE, UNICEF, or the Red Cross. These organizations have a perfectly appropriate short-term role. But Africa can't depend on them forever. In order to thrive, Africa needs a self-sustaining economy. which will depend on the flow of information so that buyers and sellers can find each other (advertising). The free flow of information can also help to expose abuses of human rights. In 1989, the Chinese students' movement depended heavily on fax machines to pass information around.

    One thing that concerns me a little is this. On the map in the article, I notice that a lot of the network taps are in one region, around Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Gabon. Here is a map of Africa. [osu.edu] These are already some of the wealthier, freer countries. It would be nice if there were more taps in places like Somalia and Ethiopia. Still, it's a lot better than nothing.

  • http://www.africam.com/
  • The vast majority of the human populat lives within a hundred miles or so of the coast. Africa is no exception. I suspect (no data to back it up except logic based on geographical conditions) that in Africa, the percentage within 100 miles of the coast is larger than in most other continents. Thus, while it will not provide easy access for those that live a ways inland, it will provide access for the majority of the population.

    Also one might ask why they don't run the cable around the coast underground instead of undersea. I suspect this too is related to geographic constraints. Africa's coast is very rocky, and is a cliff in a lot of places. Laying an underground cable in stone is rather expensive. Also, it requires that all the governments along the coast give you permission and land to lay the cable all at once, and they have to agree on where you can lay the cable at the borders. Not exactly a fun set of negotiations I suspect, nor an easy one. If you lay the cable undersea, all you have to do is negotiate with each individual country independently where they want their link(s) to come in from the ocean.

    As far as the 1,2$$,$$$,$$$ is concerned, there is a lot of money in the oil industry in Africa. I suspect that, at least indirectly, the oil industry is funding most of this, since at the very least, the oil industry is the prime source of revenue for many, if not most or all African governments.
  • by Quarnage ( 16115 ) on Wednesday June 23, 1999 @04:17AM (#1837664) Homepage
    When I was working with broadband fiber self-healing meant the ability to dynamically reroute around a break...almost a necessity if you're going to lay it on the bottom of the ocean. If it meant that the fiber actually spliced itself back together, then that would really be something else.
  • Hey, me-too posts can be important. I, for one, hope to see that more people agree with this post than with the posts it refutes. I too was irked by the subtle racism/stereotyping. I can see nothing but great benefits for Africa from this project, bravo to the Implementors!
  • How's that work?

    --John Riney
    jwriney@awod.com
  • Well if Africa was a perfect circle, and let's say its diameter is 4800 miles, then the circumference would be 15,000 miles. But, Africa isnt perfectly round, and im sure the cabling wont stay at the exact same elevation all the way around.
    Lastly, it doesnt quite hug the coast -- from the map it looks like its being seated a ways out into the ocean.

    Yeah, 24k would be a pretty accurate measurement.
    Besides, it's better to predict too much than too little.

    And how can you be complaining about bandwidth?
    You have fibre running circles around your city.
    It's your local phone co. that blows, not the backbone.
  • Well, what happens is you actually have multiple strings of physical fibre at each segment.
    If there's a break somewhere, the multiplexers at each node are intelligent enough to detect the break and reroute. Even if you have a complete cut (backhoe, submarine, bomb, etc) at one side, data can be routed around the other side of the ring. SONET was designed to be redundant like that.

  • Well if Africa was a perfect circle, and let's say its diameter is 4800 miles, then the circumference would be 15,000 miles. But, Africa isnt perfectly round, and im sure the cabling wont stay at the exact same elevation all the way around.
    Lastly, it doesnt quite hug the coast -- from the map it looks like its being seated a ways out into the ocean.

    Yeah, 24k would be a pretty accurate measurement.
    Besides, it's better to predict too much than too little.

    And how can you be complaining about bandwidth?
    You have fibre running circles around your city.
    It's your local phone co. that blows, not the backbone.
  • I agree with some of these other posts. Africa as is full of backward, politically corrupt nations. Bribery of public officials is the norm (this includes police and politicians). So, this $1.2 Billion dollar project which will be completed in 2002 is an incredible waste of money!

    How will the continent's 70% majority of mostly rural, poor people benefit from this? These people don't have food, medicine, or decent living conditions. Is high speed Net access going to improve their quality of life? Granted, it will improve education which will have positive long-term benefits. But, here and now in 2000 and in 2002 -- what good is surfing the web on a T1 if you're malnourished and dying of AIDS ???

    One thing that seemed strange - the article said: The cable is long enough to circle the globe. Last I checked, this was 24,000 miles. Africa is 4,970 miles long and 4,600 miles wide. Is this going to be a double-cable? Why the extra length?

    I'm just pissed. I live in a suburb of Boston and I can't even get a freakin cable modem. And now some guy in a grass hut who can't afford a computer is getting 40 Mbit access. IT'S NOT FAIR!
    ---
    The statement below is true.
  • Folks might be interested in re-reading Neil Stephenson's article in Wired. [wired.com]

    He follows the laying of FLAG (Fiberoptic Link Across the Globe). Awesome article on telecommunications and what goes into laying a cable under oceans.

  • NUA has a good section [www.nua.ie] for information on the proliferation of the internet on the African Subcontinent.
  • All of this would be great if I could belive that Africa would survive the anarchy that various organisations have been predicting due to Y2K problems. I know a few cockpit crew of a few airlines in Asia are refusing to fly over Africa expecting large "radar black holes"...

    Personally think the 1.2 billion investment should wait a little bit.

  • What's wrong with "destroying" cultural differences (as if it would enourage one culture at the expense of another)? Would the money have been spent on Africa if it wasn't being spent on this wire? If they don't want it enough, they won't use it. Nothing is forcing them to, or if it is, they're using it because the perceived pros outweigh the cons, and that's their decision.

  • You still haven't stated why this is wrong.

  • I am one who is all for wiring the world and getting information into the hands of the people but I have serious problems with this. Several parts of this continent are without running water or food. Could not this money be used for something to help that first? Are we going to trample on the backs of these peoples in our quest to create a true global network? All Darwinism aside, have we thrown out all sense of humanity when we worry about a continent having internet access when the people there are starving and dying on a daily basis?
  • Yea! We must be vigilant.

    But let us not becometh "Knee Jerks".
  • No - CDMA is low power and up spectrum, which doesn't work well in water. Local companies run cables up to land or even further in, and then mount base stations around them to feed in.
  • I know a lot of optics guys, and here are some observations that passed muster with them:

    YES, they're laying it underwater because a) it's cheaper and b) needs fewer bribes than doing it overland;

    NO, they won't be running cables to every hut. The game plan is probably to make the ring a backbone linked to by 2MB wireless CDMA, doing an end-run around State telcos. (The end of government gets little closer. Great!)

    YES, cost is a huge issue - but not because of immature tech; it's purely due to bureacracy and bribes. Making phone calls in Africa is pricier than in Japan, despite the fact parts of Africa (Egypt, for example) are massively wired and handle a large chunk of Europe's traffic.)

    By the way, that FLAG project was obsolete even when the Wired article was written - as is Iridium up above. Think WDM and CDMA, not grateless and TDMA.

    Bring on the ring!
  • Several parts of this continent are without running water or food

    This is true of every continent, including Europe and North America. So?

    have we thrown out all sense of humanity when we worry about a continent having internet access when the people there are starving and dying on a daily basis?

    Nope. The starvation problem is one of distribution, and that largely due to political problems/corruption/etc more than lack of infrastructure (although that's a problem too). Communications - the internet - can only help alleviate that.

    And again, people are starving and dying on every continent. If it bothers you that much, give up your slashdot account, sell your computer, and use the money to go help somebody.
  • Yeah, but then the l33t k1dd13z wouldn't be able to communicate.

    --Corey
  • I am an African and a daily slashdotter and I like OSS and all that good stuff. However, I have been dissapointed by the tone of some guys who seem to think that Africans are (1) Not on the internet (2)Do not need to be on the internet.

    This is all about communication people! Do you think there is anyone who doesn't need more ability to communicate? How could that possibly be negative?

    For a report on the existing infrastructure check out this [www.nua.ie]

    As to the people who say we should deal with the food supply first .... Man!! What kind of economics is that? How can you deal with one issue in isolation to others? So we just stop all economic activity/life and concentrate on agriculture for oh 50 years or so. Puh - leaze!!
    How realistic is that? Overall economic growth will increase income and opportunities for a lot of people and be a much more long term solution than airlifting another aid package.

    To the people who ask "do African really want this?" I can only speak for the people I know and the answer is DEFINITELY YES!! I don't know one African no matter how radical anti - west etc. who would be against this kind of development. OK not everyone knows about the Internet, but even the "average guy on the street" knows that (1) its brand new amazing technology (2) Its good for the continent's economy and will make it more attractive for international business.

    Who would be against that?

    For the guy who who said something like "AFRICA HAS A LOT OF F*** PROBLEMS!! So don't even try to deny it!" Hey, nice to see you know the glass is half empty. Sure they are problems, but what continent doesn't have problems? What exactly is the thrust of that particular argument? Problems exist and they should be dealt with, and stronger Telecommmunications infrastructure is part of the solution.

    Well, thats the end of my rant.

    I can't wait for this thing to become operational!

    Robert Rwebangira
  • Yeah Nocturna,
    Thats our favorite hobby, digging up copper wires from way underground so that we can use it for jewelry. And oh that beautiful plastic in those fibres! We just can't resist that can we?

    Oh well, nobody is going to read this anyway since this thread is nearly dead.
  • by rueba ( 19806 ) on Wednesday June 23, 1999 @09:01AM (#1837684)
    I have lived in Africa for about 17 years and while this does not make me an expert, I humbly offer my opinions on this issue.

    Q: Is it true that Africa has no need for such technology and no computers to take advantage of it?
    A: Compared to the US, there are very few computers and little infrastructure. However, most large commercial organisations, universities, NGOs etc in urban areas have lots of computers (mostly for word processing and stuff). The rate of penetration has been increasing rapidly in the last couple of years, and the trend is definately going to continue.

    A major obstacle has been lack of infrastructure
    esp. bandwidth. This project seems likely to help in that regard so it WILL have an impact on the ordinary citizens because productivity of the economy is likely to go up, leading to a higher GDP.



    Q: Are all African countries embroiled in violent civil war and mired in corruption?
    A: As far as corruption, to my knowledge this is a problem in much of Africa. As to the violent civil war part this is simply not true. Armed conflict is taking place in much of Africa, but not everywhere. Recent conflicts have focused around Central Africa in Angola and Congo and also in Ethiopia, Liberia, Algeria, Uganda and Sudan. Note that there are more than 50 countries in Africa, and I'd say that the vast majority of these are stable (from a military perspective). Of course you have political turmoil but thats another issue.

    In the west we only hear about Africa when conflict occurs, but hey what's so exciting about people living together peacefully year after year?

    Just my 0.02$
  • All we need now is affordable PCs with
    Linux installed. Imagin, millions
    of new computer users learning computing
    through Linux.


    -slams
  • Now where am I going to be able to go such that I am not surrounded by the evils of technology? When even deepest, darkest Africa is wired, where to next? Mars? (funky, lets go play with the fae, but since NASA put robots on Mars, they may have moved on again)


    sigh


    Remember the days when there was wonder still in the world? When you could walk a few miles, and come across a totally different culture? When humanity was a bunch of little villages in the forest, scratching out a living by day, hiding under the beds by night?


    Bring back the Impergium!

  • The only thing that annoys me more than bigotry is people who assume other people are being bigots.
  • I'm all in favor of it! bring it on! we need something to connect the entire world!
  • I remember reading about this project at least two years ago. Don't remember who was going to do this nor the exact technical details, but this is definitely not new(s)

    Message on our company Intranet:
    "You have a sticker in your private area"
  • Well, I hate me-too posts in general. But I think your post says it all. It saves me from having to spend the time trying to put it down. (Thanks)
    Reading the posts dripping with ignorance in this discussion just ruined my day.
    There were some intelligent responses but they were definately in the minority.

    Thank you for your excellent post.
  • Because your mom was spouting an old cliche and this is a project that will have an effect in the complex Real World.

    Are you proposing that everyone in Africa who has an idea for improving the quality of life abandon it and give any money they may have to the "Improve Farming And Irrigation Fund"?

    It looks to me like they're hoping to attract investors with this scheme. How many investors would they attract if the scheme was "well we'll take your money and give it to some organization that's going to improve farming and irrigation" - here's the answer: the big donut.

    You are being ridiculous. The continent of Africa, with its myriad cultures and countries has as many complex needs as anywhere else on Earth. I think a high quality communication infrastructure is a basic necessity to get on in this world.
  • I would have thought that Africa would be the last place to introduce this technology(self repairing cable, ...

    Self healing cable has been around for a long time (SONET and dual-connected FDDI are two examples that have been around for a long time.)

    Basically if one side of the ring around africa breaks, then all the traffic will go around the other side.

    In any case, most of the bandwith will be most likely used by telcos for plain old voice traffic anyway (which they refer to as the "billions" that they are going to save...)
  • I've been reading this section with my filtering at 2, and have been impressed by the quality of the conversation. It's like I'm reading a completely different forum from the one you describe.

    I think this is a pretty compelling illustration of the moderation scheme working. Way to go, /.

  • If oriental countries have somehow managed to overcome the language problems they have on the Internet, I hardly see "click" languages as being some sort of impossible task. Some click languages(that I'm aware of, eg Xhosa) are by far easier to write down than oriental languages, so if the east could overcome that, I'm sure Africa can. Many people with languages that include clicks (Nelson Mandela for example) can also speak English. And besides that, people who speak with clicks probably form a very small minority of Africans, so they're hardly a reason to keep the Internet out.

    What Africa really needs more than anything else is better education. There is simply no other way to become productive and competitive in a global economy. Remember, not ever African country is torn apart by civil war, many are reasonably peaceful. The Internet would be an excellent way to help improve education, and whether or not you are aware of it over in the US (I'm assuming you are from the US) there are already distance-learning institutions taking advantage of the Internet to bring education to people in Africa who would normally have found it very difficult (or impossible) to get an education at all. (http://www.unisa.ac.za/ as one example.)

    It's probably easy to get a skewed view in the US, where most people already live comfortably and can afford a relatively good education - so the main priority there is to try get faster and better entertainment video pushed into homes over the Net. But in other places, where priorities are a bit different, the Internet *is* being used to help spread education. While "Ring of Fire" might not "herald an African renaissance", it may very well be a very important small step (as one of many) that will lead to a true African renaissance over the next 50 to 100 years.

  • Give a hungry person a fish, blah blah blah. You seem to be recommending the short-term (short-sighted?) "give fish" strategy. I mean, gee, "how could improved education (and thus improved productivity and competition in a global economy) possibly improve the quality of life of the people of a country"? Do you realise how absolutely stupid you sound when you say that? Or are you a troll?

    Can't get a cable modem? Goddamn, life must be tough for you .. sh-t, no cable modem .. a fate worse than death, that must be.

    Spoilt brat.
  • .. blah blah blah, you know the rest. Figure it out. Here's a hint: think "long-term" (20 to 100 years).
  • "copper is useless in Africa"

    Shucks. This news is going to come as a huge disappointment to all those here in South Africa who have been making phone calls on copper networks for decades. And all those 15 odd years or so I thought I'd been phoning people.

  • Or why is it they have that mini-map in the corner telling us where the African continent is located?

    Come on, can't everybody pin-point the continents at least?

    Don't hate the media, become the media.

  • The Internet will be as much a revolution to Africa as TV was twenty years ago. More so, as TV is by definition controlled by big business and government. The shortage of wire in Africa is largely down to the big problem of getting it in: overcoming the patronage, baksheesh, bribery, call it what you want, that it takes to get things done in much of the continent. By running the line around the coast Africa One can bring it ashore as required and leave the inland operations to local telcos.
    Africa needs to brought up to speed - maybe this will help to stop the cycle of revolution and war that's holding development back.
  • This article [mg.co.za] says that it's actually a 80GB cable, a $600mil deal, and due in 2001... however, this could just be for South Africa's bit of it. Personally I think it's the best thing since sliced bread. A start towards a truly world-wide web. Yippee!
  • I'm still waiting for the day that some Big Company decides to entice some small nation to become the Gibsonian (William, natch) vision of the data haven--an electronic switzerland. All you'd need is a fast connection, a pliable government and a few hundred armed gaurds to stave off "interested parties". Gibson picked Costa Rica--perhaps he should have picked the Ivory Coast?
  • Microsoft wasn't even mentioned in the article.

    Its high time that "If M$ gets a hold of it/You're an M$ flunky" type responses should get the same treatment as "First post!".
  • One forgets tothink about how large Africa really is... Egypt and many other non militant groups exist within the continent. So please get your factsstraight about a place you probably have never been or studied.
  • well somebody has to flame you..

    Get over it.
  • It's not the question of "do you deserve or not net access", but "Is this really the best way to spend over a billion dollar in Africa".

    Although I agree with the morals and principles expressed in your argument, I can't help but think that you aren't fully accounting for the economic realities of the situation. The groups pouring money into this project expect a profit; this is an undertaking ruled by traditional capitalist motives. As wonderful as the idea of feeding the poor and clothing the hungry is, it is not something which one can reasonably hope to profit on. Mind you, I feel that such work should be done; I just don't expect a telecom company to be the one to do it.
  • That's assuming that the phone lines running to your neck of the desert haven't been stolen for the copper wiring (to be made into jewelry or traded for goods). I'd just love to see what happens when they start laying the fibre landlines. "Clear plastic is all the rage out of Cairo this season..."
  • Actually, the copper wires I was referring to are the unburied wires. A few years ago I did a travel report on Central Africa. One of the things to bring was a satellite-linked phone because, even if where you were staying had phones, the service was often unavailable because bandits had stolen the copper wiring from the telco switches, phone poles, and out of the basements of hotels and other buildings.
  • This project is a prelude to an invasion and re-colonization of Africa by the industrialized Western powers. They will finance this project, and will subsequently land troops in coastal countries under the pretext of protecting vital net links in what they call "unstable" areas. Each interested power will set up spheres of influence aka protectorates based around their invasion zones.
  • Hey, that's no problem. Any conspiracy theory can be reinflated with suitable embellishments. I can modify this particular conspiracy theory, for example, to include local insurrections in Africa that are provoked by entities which compete with the existing colonial powers in Africa.
  • I like your post, too bad I can't give it a couple of point to boost it to the top of the list.

    As for your concern with the high concentration of land taps in the francophone area, I think I know the answer. There is(was?) a project sponsored by the french government using alcatel to pull a big fiber from the mediteranean down around the west of africa to supply the francophone countries with cheaper telecoms. This may actually be part of the ring, since it is being built in sections as funding happens.

    If the french government gets their tetes out of their culs, they would see the internet is a great tool for expanding the use of the french language. Some of the far-right french politicians have actually found a large french speaking/writing/posting community on the internet, and they have become the loudest supporters of the internet in france. And there was just a linux expo in paris. tres cool!

    the AC
  • The plans for this cable have been around for a few years, I wonder if they are hitting the public relations circuit to build up some investor confidence.

    If you look at the website (which hasn't been updated in more than 2 years), they were hoping to be mostly done by now. Why has the BBC suddenly picked up on this project?

    on a slightly different subject......

    I can't believe some of the shameful comments by /.ers about spending the money on other projects before spending on technology. What africa needs is a better telecoms infrastructure, to help developing nations leapfrog from a mostly 19th century poverty to a 21st century stable economy.

    This cable is not going to bring 2Gbit/sec web browsing to every hut on the continent. It is going to carry mostly voice circuits, with the intention of bringing the cost of voice calls WAY, WAY down. It will also carry some internet traffic, which will bring cheaper bandwidth and hopefully spawn a bunch of small ISPs in each country. It is an evolution of telecoms in the area, not a renaissance.

    The idea that everyone on the continent lives in huts is ridiculous, there is a large middle-class population in every one of the politically stable countries, and oil wealth does get distributed with some glitches. I also take offense that all the problems of the continent have to be fixed before they get internet access. The internet and all the related technologies are possibly the best hopes for getting education into an educationally starved area. Shame on the hypocrites who drool over the latest adsl/cable offerings in their own neighborhoods, but would complain when others have a chance to get the same thing.

    The cable is being laid undersea for two reasons, cost and security. The cheapest place to lay a cable is in the seabed, because you don't have to negotiate with hundreds of mostly corrupt entities for right-of-way passage for the cable. And since most of it is hidden under the seabed, disgruntled terrorist factions cannot attack it easily. In a politically unstable climate like some parts of central and eastern africa, this is the only way to get reliable telecoms into the area. There are already dozens of cables around the african coast, some are coax, but this one will have the capacity of all the others together.

    The article in the DM&G refers to a different project, from asia to the US via SA and west africa. There was an article in the SA Star a few months ago about this cable as well.

    the AC
  • To start with

    >I see your email address is at *.uk.
    >One of the main self-justifications
    >for British imperialism

    Actually, I'm Irish, so if you want comments on british imperialism, that's an entirely different highly flamable topic. But not a /. topic, I don't think /. has the storage space if I were to rant on :-)

    >Sorry, but when you say "education,"
    >to me it sounds a lot like "western culture."

    I don't agree. I think the africans are quite capable of using the technology for their own ends, and education is one of the highest priorities around.

    There is also a great desire among the already educated population to end the isolation of africa as a "savage continent". Western culture is not the only one on this planet, india and the middle east are also big influences on africa as well. This is where the internet shines, it eliminates the physical separation, leaving only cultural and educational separation to overcome.


    >"perhaps distributing vitamins with folate to
    >pregnant African women would be a better way of >spending the money."

    Yes, in the short term it would be a better way of spending the money, but in the long term the women would still not be better off. Money needs to be distributed to a wide variety of programs to improve the conditions of humans, in africa and everywhere else on this planet. There is no one simple cause to make miracles, there are thousands of them which make improvements. And this cable is just one of the improvements which will help people all across africa, mostly indirectly.

    I was reacting to the kneejerk reactions of "pearls to pigs" and "racist slashdot morons", who don't understand that all of africa is not jungle huts and savages and famines, but is a collection of 50 nations with a wide variety of economic conditions.

    I am heartened to see many other slashdotters reacting to the morons in the same way, with careful posts full of information and understanding.

    the AC
  • In the article they mention that this Ring of Fire might "herald an African renaissance". OK, that was a supreme load of crap.

    Lets see... a friend of mine went to an airport in Africa. It is a war torn shell ridden airport with craters on the airstrip from a civil war. I think this Ring of Fire is great and all technologically, but when these people are having a civil war, speak with clicks, and where alot are in dire poverty with Sally Struthers trying to rescue them then I don't think that the Internet is exactly on their mind. So I sure as hell don't think it will "herald an African renaissance".
    These experts who think the Internet will herald a renaissance must be the same buffoons who think the Internet will be the great equalizer across socio-economic classes in the US for education. OK.. right....

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