Wiocc Group, one of the original investors in the Eassy submarine cable system on Africa’s east coast, is gearing up for rapid expansion as it eyes opportunities offered by two massive new cables being deployed to the continent.
Wiocc – originally the West Indian Ocean Cable Company – was created to invest in Eassy, the submarine cable system deployed 12 years ago between South Africa (at Mtunzini on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast) and Port Sudan on the Red Sea, from where it connects onward to Europe and Asia on other cable systems.
It invested $80-million in Eassy for a 30% stake (alongside telecommunications operators such as Telkom, MTN and Vodacom), followed soon after by an investment in EIG, a cable that connects Eassy to Europe and onward, and later in Wacs, the West African Cable System that links South Africa with Europe on the western route from Cape Town to Portugal (and onward to the UK and Europe).
Wiocc Group recently completed a capital raise of US$200-million, consisting of a mix of debt and equity, and has made investments in its own fibre pairs in Equiano and 2Africa – two giant new cable systems backed by Google and Meta Platforms, respectively.
Wiocc Group is now investing millions of dollars in data centre infrastructure, through its Open Access Data Centres (OADC) business, including facilities to land these cables, Chris Wood, Wiocc’s group CEO, said in an interview with TechCentral. OADC and Wiocc operate with “a big Chinese wall” between them, said Wood, with OADC offering open-access services and hoping to host as many fibre providers as possible in its data centres.
Wood said Wiocc will spend $500-million on data centres in the next five years, with some of the money coming from its recent capital raise and some from operational cash flows.
In South Africa, Wiocc has built a 2MW data centre in Amanzimtoti, south of Durban, ostensibly to host the landing of the 2Africa cable system in the country. 2Africa’s eastern route (between South Africa and Europe/the Middle East is expected to go live early next year, with the route along Africa’s west coast, where Equiano is being deployed, expected to be available in 2024.
Wiocc is also investing in edge data centres along various along major fibre routes in South Africa – specifically, along the so-called NLD, or national long distance — routes – to help Internet service providers get access to services.
Elsewhere on the continent, Wiocc recently completed a fibre network over Nigeria’s national network of power lines to interconnect the major cities in the West African nation; it now plans to invest further in data centre infrastructure in those cities. The company has also landed the Equiano cable in Lagos, with plans to expand its data centre there to 20MW of load to cater for growing demand. Port Harcourt and Abuja will likely be the next cities it expands to, said Wood. It is looking, too, at the possibility of hosting a second landing station for Equiano.
The company landed the Eassy cable in Mogadishu in 2012, which was not a trivial exercise
Wiocc is also not afraid to enter markets most companies wouldn’t go near. Notably, it has invested — and continues to invest — in Somalia, where it will operate the landing station for the 2Africa cable. The company landed the Eassy cable in Mogadishu in 2012, which Wood said was not a trivial exercise – it took five years of preparatory work and involved French naval support and Ugandan troops provided by the African Union to protect its workers and contractors. However, he said the piracy problem in Somalia in 2012 was “a thousand times worse” than it is today. And landing Eassy transformed the telecoms market in Somalia – much more so than it did, or would have, in any other country — which Wood said made the hard work worthwhile.
Eassy, Wood said, still has a good five to eight years of useful life left in it. “Technically, cables will last for 20-25 years, but they can become uneconomical [to operate]. We haven’t got there yet for Eassy. In fact, Eassy was upgraded last year, and there’s still be another upgrade [before it is retired].”