How Liberia can benefit from connecting SAT3

By Ciata Victor

Fiber Optics is the technology you hear about when people talk about the telephone system, the cable TV system or the Internet. Fiber-optic lines are strands of optically pure glass as thin as a human hair that carries digital information over long distances. They are also used in medical imaging and mechanical engineering inspection.

In the telecommunications world, Fiber is the preferred medium over copper wire, and it is cheaper, faster and more reliable then Satellite.

By utilizing the rivers and coastal waters to distribute long-haul Fiber Optic cables for the backbone, land rights and digging issues as well as installation cost and time can be greatly reduced.

Liberians live and work approximately 5 to 10 miles inland, along 350 miles of Coastal waters, and in close proximity to several river channels that run perpendicular to the coast. The fiber cables for the backbone and the services they will deliver can be deployed by running cables along the coast, and in rivers for long-haul distribution to the interior. Wireless technology, trenches and poles will complete the system by delivering services to customers locations inland. This method of using the waterways is faster and cost less then trying to build and distribute the entire system over land.

The Network can be built in 2 phases. Phase One: Build the internal network consisting of a backbone running along the entire southern coast of the country, from Cape Mount to Cape Palmas. Extend the cables deep into the interior using the Lofa, St. Paul, St. John, Cestos and the Cavalla Rivers. The River trunks can be use to connect Liberia's Internal Network to Guinea, and coastal links can connect Liberia to Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast.

While the backbone is being built, Phase Two can begin with negotiating connections to the SAT-3 Cable and to Liberia's neighbors. The SAT-3 Cable connection will serve as the entry and exit ramp, onto the information super highway, and provide the internal network with an external connection to the World.

If Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone want to cooperate, they could agree to share the installation and connection cost for a single shared connection to the Cable. Thereby reducing the cost to the Cable for each country by 66%. This savings could be reinvested in their internal network systems and help create a regional fiber optic network for West Africa.

Once the internal backbone is laid and the end points connected, digital and telecommunication products and services will be immediately available internally, allowing Liberians and their neighbors to cost effectively and reliably communicate. Customers wanting high-speed connections can then pay the installation cost of running the cable to their facilities, just like it is done in the west. Customers wanting connectivity, can buy, rent or lease the equipment and pay monthly access charges for digital services. Digital services will be cheaper, faster, and more reliable then the current system of costly, limited or no Satellite connectivity in Liberia, and slow, low bandwidth analog copper connectivity in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Because these digital systems interface with analog systems, countries with major investments in analog systems, can gradually move to a newer, faster, more reliable digital system over time and as budget allows.

In addition to the many benefits offered by the digital network for Voice, Data and Video, there are huge benefits for distance learning which can go a long way in reducing Liberia's illiteracy rate and increasing Liberian expertise.

It is this engineer's opinion, that a connection to the SAT-3 cable is essential for Liberia's development and the success of the economy. The life span of these cables is between 15 - 25 years. The initial investments like all infrastructural development projects are high, but the returns on investments are even higher. The potential for developing a technical workforce that could support the rest of Africa, is real and it can be accomplished in less then 5 years with Sierra Leone and Guinea as our first customers.

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