St Helena Government (SHG) in December 2019 signed a contract with Google to connect St Helena Island to the Equiano undersea fibre optic internet cable – and thus, St Helena’s Fibre Optic Cable Project was born.
The project was awarded funding under EDF11 and supports St Helena’s 2017 Digital Strategy.
The project should deliver St Helena’s first high-speed, fibre-optic connectivity (currently connection is via satellite).
- The landing of St Helena’s branch of the Equiano cable on 26 August 2021 marked the first shore cable-landing in the entire Equiano project.
- St Helena’s cable branch (linking the Island to the main trunk of the Equiano cable) should be around 1,154km long;
- The main cable trunk should link to Europe and southern Africa.
The fibre optic cable should deliver high-speed broadband connectivity to the British Overseas Territory of St Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean – one of the remotest islands on Earth.
Speeds should range from a few hundred gigabits per second up to multiple terabits, as demand varies.
This would be the first time St Helena has been connected to the outside world via a fibre-optic cable: Currently, customers pay per megabyte of data for broadband (and mobile phone) options, with listed upload speeds between 512kbps and 768kbps and download speeds between 1,024kbps and 2,048kbps. Broadband packages range from £13.31/month for 1.1gbs of data, to £160.06/month for 31gbs, and data does not shut off at package limit but automatically allows overages, charged at 5p/mb. Internet usage is free between midnight and 6am. Therefore, enhanced digital connectivity has the potential to hugely benefit the Island and its residents, businesses and visitors (including benefits to education and healthcare opportunities).
Cable Landing and Facilitation
From 16 August 2021 excavation and other preparation works were taking place at Rupert’s Beach for the arrival of the cable landing ship. Divers placed and secured articulated piping onto the seabed floor at Rupert’s – the cable would later be placed and enclosed within that piping.
Teliri arrived 25 August 2021 for marine and shore landing works. The cable was dropped over the side of the ship on 29 August 2021 and placed into the piping that had been laid. The end of the cable was installed at the MCLS, where it will link into the Island’s digital infrastructure.
After landing of the cable, training occurred consistently with Google to enable local staff to manage the MCLS in readiness for when the branch was connected to the main trunk. The PFE inside the MCLS was tested, and Submarine Line Terminal Equipment was installed.
Modular Cable Landing Station (MCLS)
The MCLS is where the end of St Helena’s cable branch connects into the island’s infrastructure. It is located in Rupert’s Valley.
St Helena’s MCLS and associated components were designed and fabricated in the United States by AMSS, and arrived to St Helena via the MV Helena on 16 March 2021. The MCLS was offloaded, transported, and carefully positioned just above the Rupert’s Valley beach, ready for installation works.
In May and June 2021 two ASN engineers arrived and installed PFE and associated telecoms equipment within the MCLS.
On 2 August 2021 four ASN and eight MCC personnel arrived via charter flight to facilitate landing of the cable and test the power feed equipment within the MCLS.
Fibre Optic Cable Project Verification and Commissioning Document officially signed
SHG’s Chief Digital Officer, Jeremy (Jerry) Roberts, and Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) Engineer, Marc Andre, signed the verification and commissioning document in regards to the Fibre Optic Cable Project in October 2023.
During his time on-Island Marc ran all the optical and commissioning tests on St Helena’s branch of the Fibre Optic Cable, as well as the branches between Samba and Cape Town to test whether the line is actually capable of carrying traffic.
Telecom Egypt engineers coming in May 2023 to commission the MCLS
Between Sunday 21 May and Friday 26 May, technicians from Telecom Egypt’s sub-contractual deployment team undertook final commissioning works for the installation and integration of the Equiano fibre-optic cable Submarine Line Terminal Equipment (SLTE). The SLTE connects the cable landing station to the wider Equiano network, allowing the transfer of data through the cable between St Helena and the rest of the world.
Following completion of the commissioning works last week, the SLTE has been rigorously tested and has now been confirmed to be working as intended, meaning it is now live.
St Helena connects to the Subsea Cable
In order to ensure continuity of service beyond 31 December 2023, negotiations have taken place with Sure South Atlantic Ltd to secure an extension to the existing licence. A specific objective has been to switch from satellite based to cable based services. Utilising the cable gives us the opportunity to reap immediate enhancements which can benefit all customers. SHG is very clear that these benefits should allow increased data allowances and improved speeds.
Sure has committed to connecting the cable and launching new consumer offers prior to the extension of the existing licence and will use best endeavours to make the new services available to the public on 1 October 2023.
Principles which underpin these packages are:
- Every type of customer, regardless of the package chosen, should receive significant benefit from the cable
- No customer will incur overages, thus avoiding bill shock – booster packages will be available
- Savings on monthly charges for enhanced data allowances
- Offering of unlimited data plans, but balanced with need to maintain affordable plans
- Mobile improved further to give increased data allowance at lower cost
- Business packages will be enhanced, with further enhancements expected in early 2024.