Facebook and some of the world’s largest telecommunications carriers, including China Mobile, Vodafone Group and MTN Group, are joining forces to build a giant subsea cable to help bring more reliable and faster Internet across Africa.
The cost of the project will be just under US$1-billion (R18.7-billion at the time of writing), according to three people familiar with the project, who asked not to be identified as the budget hasn’t been made public. The 37 000km-long cable — dubbed 2Africa — will connect Europe to the Middle East and 16 African countries, according to a statement on Thursday.
The undersea cable sector is experiencing a resurgence. During the 1990s dot-com boom, phone companies spent more than $20-billion laying fibre-optic lines under the oceans. Now tech giants, led by Facebook and Google, are behind about 80% of the recent investment in transatlantic cables, driven by demand for fast-data transfers used for streaming movies to social messaging.
Facebook has long tried to lead the race to improve connectivity in Africa in a bid to take advantage of a young population, greater connectivity and the increasing availability and affordability of smartphones. The US social media giant attempted to launch a satellite in 2016 to beam signal around the continent, but the SpaceX rocket carrying the technology blew up on the launchpad.
Google announced its own subsea cable connecting Europe to Africa last year, using a route down the west coast.
2Africa is expected to come into operation by 2024 and will deliver more than the combined capacity of all subsea cables serving Africa, according to the statement. The announcement comes after Internet users across more than a dozen sub-Saharan African nations experienced slow service in January after two undersea cables were damaged.
Among the longest
Facebook has partnered on the new cable with two of Africa’s biggest wireless carriers, Johannesburg-based MTN Group and Telecom Egypt. The UK’s Vodafone Group and Paris-based Orange, which both have a significant presence on the continent, are also involved. Nokia’s Alcatel Submarine Networks has been appointed to build the cable.
The 2Africa cable will be one of the longest in the world, trailing Sea-Me-We 3, which is 39 000km long and connects 33 countries, according to Submarine Cable Networks. — Reported by Angelina Rascouet, Loni Prinsloo and Thomas Seal, (c) 2020 Bloomberg LP