Uganda Friday inaugurated the second phase of an Internet backbone infrastructure measuring 1,380 kilometers (855 miles), bringing the total amount of fiber optics laid in the country so far to 1,548 km.

The second phase of the project comes more than four years after the first phase of the US$106 million National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) and the Electronic Government Infrastructure (EGI) initiative.

The Chinese government sourced and recommended Huawei Technologies to carry out the project. The Uganda NBI is part of an East Africa-wide terrestrial fiber-optic cable, which will, when complete, cover 15,600 km linking the five countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

In the final phase, which begins work in January, 307 km of fiber will be laid from the Uganda capital, Kampala, to the Rwanda border to complete a link from the Kenyan port town of Mombasa.

The second phase has linked Uganda to neighbors Kenya in the east and South Sudan to the north.

Phase one, which was dogged by technical as well as financial problems, linked all government departments and agencies.

James Saka, the executive director of the National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U), the IT regulator, said the project will help lower the cost of Internet bandwidth for the government and target user groups such as schools, universities, hospitals and research institutions.

He said the 24-core, 2.5GB cable, with potential for upgrade to 10GB, will provide high-speed Internet bandwidth to support IT-enabled services such as Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).

It will also enhance efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery to the citizens of Uganda through electronic transactions such as e-taxation, e-health and e-learning.

Saka said the NBI will improve collaboration within government through services such as unified messaging and support the digital migration process by providing auxiliary infrastructure for the transmission and delivery of digital television signals.

The facility will also facilitate business transactions nationally and internationally through the adoption of e-commerce.

Government is set to tender out management of the second phase of the project to a private operator who will ensure 24-hour availability of the network.

The minister of information and communication technology, Ruhakana Rugunda, said a share of the funds raised by the private manager, who will lease capacity to the private sector, will be used to maintain and develop new routes of the network.

In a directive that will likely hit the revenue of private telecom operators, President Yoweri Museveni has directed that all ministries and agencies that are connected on the network should use it as their primary infrastructure for voice, data, Internet and email.

Rugunda said that when commercialization of the backbone is finalized, it will be possible to deploy services such as video conferencing, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), unified messaging and collaboration services, which can allow sharing of data across government.

"Other priority interventions to optimize use of the NBI/EGI will include bulk purchase of international Internet bandwidth capacity for priority targeted user groups, establishing a shared ICT services platform (government "cloud") for hosting all existing and future e-government applications," Rugunda said.

The infrastructure will also help in establishing what he called public key infrastructure to facilitate secure e-transactions, and support BPO or IT-enabled services including incubation and training.

Already, five ministries including that of defense and foreign affairs use applications like video conferencing and VoIP.

The entire project is funded by a concessional loan from the export/import bank (EXIM) of China. Uganda has to pay back the loan over a period of 20 years.