by Kurt Ruderman
Libya is building terrestrial and undersea fibre networks in a bid to create state-of-the-art telecoms infrastructure and to become a major communications hub for the African continent. The projects and other infrastructure efforts, which began after the country patched up diplomatic relations with the European Union and the United States, have accelerated over the past year.
In July, Libya and other consortium members of Europe India Gateway (EIG) signed a contract with Alcatel-Lucent (www.alcatel-lucent.com) to supply and deploy the 7,100-km Atlantic-Mediterranean segment of the 15,000-km EIG submarine cable system. When it lands in Libya, the EIG will provide the country with its second international undersea fibre-optic link. Libya is currently connected to Sicily via a fibre-optic cable supplied by Pirelli (now Prysmian; www.prysmian.com) in 1998.
EIG consortium members include AT&T; Bharti Airtel; BT; C&W; Djibouti Telecom; Gibtelecom; Libyan Post, Telecom, and Information Technology Co. (LPTIC); MTN Group Ltd.; Omantel; PT ComunicaÃ§Ãµes, S.A.; Saudi Telecom Co.; Telecom Egypt; Telkom SA Ltd.; and Verizon Business. Alcatel-Lucent is one of two submarine cable network suppliers for the project, which has a total value of over US$700 million. EIG is the first direct, high-bandwidth optical-fibre submarine cable system from the United Kingdom to India.
EIG will connect three continents, with landings planned in the U.K., Portugal, Gibraltar, Monaco, France, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and India. The cable system will provide needed diversity for broadband traffic currently relying largely on traditional routes from Europe to India, as well as interconnections with other major cable systems connecting Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America.
The EIG announcement came a year after Libya awarded Alcatel-Lucent and Sirti a contract to build Libya's first nationwide terrestrial fibre-optic backbone network. Libya also picked Sofrecom, a France Telecom subsidiary, to manage and supervise the project and to provide training. The more than 7,000-km backbone and planned metro network will provide backhaul for the expansion of cellular networks and platforms to launch broadband access networks.
Libya's projects are among the most important in Africa, which is experiencing a surge in terrestrial and submarine telecoms investment. Around the continent, there are four major submarine cable systems under constructionâ��EASSY, TEAMS, WAFS, and Globacomâ��as well as an upgrade of SAT3.
Libya and other oil-rich African countries need to modernise infrastructure and are using oil revenues to fund telecoms projects. The oil and gas sector is the main driver of the Libyan economy. It accounts for 95% of the country's export revenues.
The wave of network construction is expected to continue. Sofrecom's CEO, Jean-FranÃ§ois Fallacher, expects his company's African business to grow by 15% in 2009. Today, 25% of Sofrecom's business is in Africa. Libya currently is one of Sofrecom's biggest projects. Other big projects could start soon in Algeria and Angola.
"In Africa, mobile is more important than fixed telephony," explains Fallacher. "Libya has only two mobile operators and is talking about a third license. Mobile will create demand for backhaul. Mobile backhaul is a big driver for fibre backbones. In the rest of Africa there is also a demand for backbones to link landlocked countries to the coastal countries where submarine cables land. Satellite is not enough to reach these landlocked countries."
The Libyan terrestrial backbone is especially ambitious. It is part of Libya's goal to bring broadband services to the entire country, whose population of 6 million is spread out over a large geographic areaâ��1,759,540 sq km. The backbone will complement a 1,600-km fibre-optic festoon that connects Libya's coastal cities.
Under Sofrecom's supervision, Alcatel-Lucent and Sirti will complete the 7,500-route-km backbone in 2009. Sirti is building a 3,200-km section in the western part of the country and Alcatel-Lucent a 4,300-km section in the eastern part (Fig. 1). The network is being installed in buried ducts. The bulk of the fibre-optic cableâ��6,300 kmâ��for the backbone network has been supplied by Prysmian of Italy.
Sofrecom is the go-between between Alcatel-Lucent/Sirti and the Libyan government. Sofrecom is also training the Libyans. After one year, the Libyans will start taking over certain jobs.
The Alcatel-Lucent/Sirti contract is for the passive layer of the backbone network, which is part of Libya's Next Generation Network (NGN) project. The next phase, which has gone out to bid, will be for the active layer. The active part is expected to involve two more years of work.
Alcatel-Lucent, not surprisingly, has bid on the next phase of Libya's NGN project, which will involve connecting schools, hospitals, and other state-run institutions, said Vincenzo Nesci, Alcatel's president of Middle East and Africa business.
The company is well-positioned in the bidding process. The French/U.S. equipment maker has racked up a number of major contracts in Libya over the past decade. In 1998, Alcatel-Lucent won a contract from the General Post and Telecommunications Company (GPTC) of Libya, to supply and install Libya's first fibre-optic submarine telecommunications system, The Libyan Fibre Optic Network (LFON), which runs 1,600 km and comprises 11 separate unrepeatered links along Libya's Mediterranean coastline (Fig. 2). LFON, which was completed in 1999, connects the cities of Zwara, Zawia, Tripoli, Khoms, Misurata, Sirte, Ras Lanuf, Brega, Benghazi, Tolmeta, Derna, and Tobruk.
Libya has also installed terrestrial and submarine cable systems for its oil and gas industry. In 2002, AGIP GAS B.V., a joint venture between AGIP North Africa and the National Oil Corp. of Libya, awarded Alcatel-Lucent a turnkey pact for a telecommunications network to support AGIP GAS's internal communication needs. The project is part of the global Western Libya Gas Project aimed at developing and exporting to Europe large volumes of natural gas via pipelines. The contract included a 520-km terrestrial fibre-optic network that connects the onshore plants and a 110-km fibre-optic submarine cable to link the offshore platform.
Alcatel-Lucent also has won multiple contracts to expand Libya's wireless capabilities that call for delivery of GSM/EDGE and 3G/UMTS equipment as well as the country's first WiMAX infrastructure.