How is St Helena connected to the outside world today?

A single satellite dish with a diameter of 7.6 metres installed in 1989 and located at Cable & Wireless' headquarters at The Briars provides the island's only internet and international telephone connection. It uses a C band transponder on Intelsat 707 for a link to the UK with 20 MBit/s downstream and 7.2 MBit/s upstream through which all data and voice traffic is being routed. This satellite was launched in March 1996 and had a predicted lifetime of 11 years, which is already exceeded by five years now. A sudden failure could occur anytime.
The total bandwidth of 20 MBit/s downstream is partly reserved for certain customers while the remaining capacity is shared by all other customers on the island resulting in very low effective bandwidth, often in the two-digit kbit/s range which corresponds to the speed of analogue modems used in the late 1990s. Thus many internet applications like YouTube or Skype are hardly or not usable and internet service on the island can not be considered as "broadband" by any currently acceptable definition.

What does internet access on St Helena currently cost?

Currently Cable & Wireless, St Helena's only internet provider, offers four different broadband plans which are all very limited in bandwidth and data allowance while being very expensive:

monthly fee bandwidth (DL/UL) data allowance additional data
Gold £119.99 384/128 KBit/s 3300 MB £0.09/MB
Silver £59.99 256/128 KBit/s 1250 MB £0.10/MB
Bronze £29.99 128/64 Kbit/s 500 MB £0.12/MB
Lite £19.99 128/64 KBit/s 300 MB £0.12/MB

In western markets the average data usage per broadband subscriber is believed to range between 10 to 20 GB and many broadband plans in the UK include an unlimited data allowance. However consuming a data volume of 10GB on St Helena within one month would cost £790. If St Helena's relation between income and broadband pricing would apply in the UK generating 10GB of data volume per month would cost approximately £4,000.
According to Nielsen in late 2011 an average iPhone user consumed more than 400MB of data.
These figures clearly show that besides the very low effective bandwidth internet usage on St Helena is further restricted by the very limited data allowance and prohibitively high pricing of exceeding data volume, especially in relation to the low income level. comparison chart of income and broadband pricing of the United Kingdom and St Helena

1based on biggest broadband plan available on St Helena ("Gold"); British broadband plans usually contain significantly higher data allowance:
2Due to lack of data average bandwidth for St Helena is assumed to be available maximum of 384 KBit/s

What would be the benefits for St Helena if the cable came to the island?

Landing the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable could close the digital divide, significantly improve standard of living by providing better education by the means of e-learning, better healthcare by telemedicine and economic growth by establishing an internet-based service sector and by supporting tourism based on reliable telecom infrastructure.
This and this article give an impression of how much online learning will change education and what St Helenian children will miss without broadband connectivity.
In a study from 2010 the World Bank has found that in low- and middle-income countries every 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration accelerates economic growth by 1.38 percentage points—more than in high-income countries and more than for other telecommunications services. In a similar study, McKinsey & Company estimates that a 10% increase in broadband household penetration delivers a boost to a country‘s GDP that ranges from 0.1 percent to 1.4 percent. Booz & Company found that 10% higher broadband penetration in a specific year is correlated to 1.5% greater labor productivity growth over the following five years. Booz also suggests that countries in the top tier of broadband penetration have exhibited 2 percent higher GDP growth than countries in the bottom tier. These studies are the latest in the already extensive work estimating broadband‘s economic impact.
Given St Helena's high level of literarcy, English as the native language and its low income level there would be many promising business opportunities in the offshoring service sector, such as call centers. Against this background we believe landing the South Atlantic Express cable at St Helena would be a significant accelerator for social and economic development on St Helena and would perfectly complement existing developing plans for tourism. The goals of St Helena's development plan to attract "higher spending visitors" by "delivering island-wide world-class services and experiences" are illusionary with today's inadequate telecommunication infrastructure.

What is the biggest challenge at this time?

Given St Helena's small population of 4,200 and the government's limited budget funding is impossible without aids from the UK or the European Union. However once larger-scale tourism starts after the airport has been completed in 2015, the userbase will significantly increase and help to amortize the high initial costs. These need to be considered against the cable's expected lifetime of at least 20 years and the enormous social and economical benefits over this period.
Besides funding for the cable's landing we seek to render broadband access affordable for everybody on St Helena. Given St Helena's low income level and the small userbase this cannot happen on a fully commercial basis.

What does the currently planned route for the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable look like and how should it be changed?

Current route (orange) should be moved further south (green), which would increase cable length by less than 100km:

South Atlantic cable routes

Why is this a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity"?

Because, as market analysts say, the construction of the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable and the to be constructed WASACE South cable running far north from St Helena will result in abundant capacity on the South Atlantic route and so it is highly unlikely another cable to be constructed in the South Atlantic for the next decades. Even if there was a further project it is unlikely it would come close to St Helena and so allow a cost-effective landing. Transoceanic cables are usually laid along coasts and then take the narrowest passage between continents but do not cross oceans straight through like the South Atlantic Express cable will.
Against this background the opportunity of landing the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable must be considered as unique.

What costs would the landing of the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable involve?

Landing the cable would involve costs between £6 and 9 million. Yearly leasing costs for an OC-3 link with 155 MBit/s are expected not to exceed £ 200,000.
These costs must to be considered against the background of the SAex cable having an expected lifetime of at least 20 years and the enormous social and economical benefits over this period.
Alternatively to connecting St Helena immediately during the imminent construction phase the cable system could be equipped with a pre-installed branching unit close to St Helena with a so-called "stub cable" for connection in the future. The costs would amount to 20% of the costs to make the full connection to the island. However this would have to be planned from the beginning of the construction phase. Additionally, a later landing which would involve deploying a specialized cable-laying vessel and costly data traffic restoration operations would increase the total costs by at least 30% compared to a full installation during the initial construction phase.

How could costs be funded?

We believe the St Helena Government could obtain funds from the UK government and EuropeAid. Further loans could be taken out with the European Investment Bank (EIB), which e.g. has contributed in funding a submarine cable project for the Seychelles in 2011.
Given the UK government's total investment of nearly £250 million in an airport at St Helena which aims to make St Helena self-sustaining it would be extraordinarily unresaonable not to sponsor the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable's landing at the inadequate telecommunication infrastructure is an obstacle for tourism.

What does the existing satellite link cost per year?

The costs for the current satellite link are not in the public domain. However, industry sources estimate estimate costs to amount to approximately $ 20,000 per month for 20 MBit/s.

Landing the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable is one thing, but how would the internet get to the people?

St Helena has a modern digital telephone network with ADSL service and currently there are more than 1,000 internet users, so there is already sophisticated infrastructure in place. The island simply lacks a fast international link to the internet and affordable tariffs.

Our vision is that every Saint can access the internet without any restrictions in terms of data allowance.

Who is building the South Atlantic Epxress (SAex) cable and who is funding it?

The South Atlantic Epxress (SAex) cable is a project of a South African company called eFive Telecoms (Pty) Limited. According to media reports it will be funded by at least 60% by the Bank of China and partly by the Industrial Development Corporation, an entity fully owned by South Africa's Ministry of Economic Development.
Construction will be carried out by TE SubCom.

What would alternative would there be if the cable was not landed?

St Helena would need to rely to a satellite link for all internet and telephone service, which is expensive, slow and unreliable. There is some potential to increase bandwidth, but this would be expensive and could still not provide broadband speeds while remaining unreliable and having a high latency. Allthough there's a new satellite generation operating in the Ka band which offers relatively high bandwidth at moderate costs, the only one covering Southern Africa, Yahsat 1B, will not supply St Helena. The satellite constellation of O3b Networks which will be deployed to the medium earth orbit and so reduce latency while providing high bandwidths in the Ka band will cover St Helena, but would involve total costs similar to that of a cable landing while, in contrast to a fibre link, offering a limited scope for bandwidth upgrades.

Since market analysts say that the construction of the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable and the WASACE South cable following short time later will result in abundant capacity on the South Atlantic route it is highly unlikely another cable to be constructed in the South Atlantic for the next decades. Even if there was a further project it is unlikely it would come close to St Helena and so allow a cost-effective landing.

How much bandwidth will the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable provide?

Plans are to install a total capacity of 16 TBit/s. That corresponds to 800,000 times the bandwidth of St Helena's current satellite link. St Helena would only need to lease a small fraction of this bandwidth. We believe an OC-3 link with 155 MBit/s would be sufficient in the beginning. Due to the vast amount of bandwidth that will be available on the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable St Helena could lease additional bandwidth at anytime.

How is a submarine cable being laid and landed?

How does an optic fibre cable work?

Where can I get an overview of existing and future submarine cables?

Isn't satellite communication state-of-the-art?

There is a common misconception that nowadays most international communications are routed via satellites, when in fact well over 95% of this traffic is actually routed via submarine fibre-optic cables. Data and voice transfer via these cables is not only cheaper, but also much quicker and more reliable than via satellite.

If the SAex cable would actually land at St Helena, would it really run over the island as indicated in the map?

No, our maps are only schematic. The cable would pass St Helena in a distance of few kilometers and a short unrepeatered branch would be laid to a landing station at the coast of St Helena. In order to avoid cable damages from anchors or fishnets this would be a site with as few maritime traffic as possible, probably on the eastern shore.

What are the environmental impacts of submarine cables?

According to a report from the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the weight of evidence shows that the environmental impact of fibre-optic cables is neutral to minor. In the deep ocean (more than c.1,000–1,500 m depth), which encompasses over 80% of cable routes, any effect is limited to the placement of a non-toxic, 17–20 mm diameter tube on the ocean floor.
Notably in contrast to satellite dishes there is no relevant electromagnetic radiation, that could be hazardous to people.

How can I help to make the South Atlantic Express (SAex) cable land at St Helena?

Please see the support us section.

Your question has remained unanswered?

Please write us and we will try to answer your question as soon as possible.

High-speed broadband would be huge for education. Not only could we make better use of online materials, but with affordable broadband teachers could develop their practice from home.
I'm an IT engineer and I would love to return to my island to start an IT business, but because of the slow, expensive and unreliable internet connection this is simply impossible.
I had to leave St Helena to study. Being 5000 miles away from my family and friends is hard. Not being able to skype with them due to the slow and expensive internet on St Helena is even harder.
Socioeconomic status is now heavily reliant on broadband penetration. With the ever-growing importance of the internet, St Helena with its limited access is in danger of being left behind.