Facebook, alongside a group of telecom companies including China Mobile International, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, and Vodafone, are collaborating to build the “most comprehensive” subsea cable to serve the African continent and Middle East region.
The project named 2Africa will see huge new cable measured at 37,000KM long and would interconnect Europe (eastward via Egypt), the Middle East (via Saudi Arabia), and 21 landings in 16 countries in Africa.
In a joint statement released, the operators said they expect the system to be live by 2023 or early 2024. Once live, it should have the capacity to deliver more than the total combined capacity of all subsea cables serving Africa today, with the ability to increase capacity up to 180Tbps on key parts of the system.
The operators – who also include Telecom Egypt, Saudi Arabia-based STC, and African telecom firm WIOCC – say service providers in the countries where 2Africa cables would be connected to, will obtain capacity in carrier-neutral data centers or open-access cable landing stations on a fair and equitable basis.
Howbeit, Facebook, and other telecom operators did not reveal the cost of the investment.
Najam Ahmad, the Vice President of Network Infrastructure at Facebook, said 2Africa is “a special element of our ongoing investment in Africa to connect more people online to faster internet. We’ve seen first-hand the positive impact that increased connectivity has on communities, from healthcare to education.”
The subsea cable also has the potential of helping Facebook and others drive down their bandwidth costs.
The internet is an amalgamation of tiny bits of code that travel around the world in cables under the ocean floor. As at early last year, 750,000 miles of cable have been laid out across the globe.
The participation of Facebook, which maintains a number of other connectivity efforts to bring more people online in 2Africa shouldn’t come as a surprise. Telecom firms have long worked on undersea cable projects, but the last decade has seen several American technology companies join the effort.
According to Washington-based research firm TeleGeography; Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon now own or lease nearly half of the undersea bandwidth. Google alone has backed at least 14 cables globally.
Previously, the search giant announced Equiano, a privately-funded subsea cable to connect Europe and Africa. The first round of this project was planned for completion in 2021. Both 2Africa and Equiano have commissioned Nokia-owned Alcatel Submarine Networks for building the cable.
American technology companies are not alone in their fascination with laying cables across the world. China’s Huawei consummated a 3,750-mile cable between Brazil and Cameroon in late 2018, and in 2019 began work on a 7,500-mile cable connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The 16 African countries connected are Kenya, Madagascar, DRC, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Mozambique, Congo-Brazzaville, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Nigeria, Sudan, Senegal, Somalia (landing at Mogadishu), Tanzania and South Africa.