Improving Internet access in developing countries around the world is a big priority for the tech industry. However, doing so isn’t easy. It requires long-term planning and costly projects. One such effort, led by Facebook, is about to commence.
The social media giant and a group of telecom companies are planning to build the “most comprehensive” subsea cable in the world. It will help bring much-needed connections to a region where nearly a billion people are still offline.
Subsea cables aren’t new. In fact, over 99 percent of the world’s Internet traffic travels through these massive cables, which are buried under the ocean floor. Globally, 750,000 miles of cable have been laid under the water. Tech companies have made connecting the African continent with such cables a priority in recent years. The new development by Facebook is called 2Africa.
More than 22,990 miles of high-speed cables will be placed around Africa and the Middle East to connect the continent both to itself and to Europe. It will include 21 landings in 16 African countries. Notably, the new cable is slated to deliver more bandwidth than the entire capacity of all other subsea cables serving Africa today. In key parts of the system, the cable will reach speeds of up to 180Tbps.
Some notable names are partnering with Facebook to make the cable a reality. The likes of Vodafone, China Mobile International, MTN GlobalConnect, and Orange are all involved.
Facebook and its partners note that the system should go live by the end of 2023 or early 2024. That’s a relatively brief timeline considering the massive scope of the project.
Once it goes online, service providers in the 16 African countries where 2Africa lands will obtain capacity on a “fair and equitable basis.” This plan will reportedly help both businesses and consumers gradually improve their Internet access and speeds in the years to come.
Najam Ahmad, Facebook’s vice president of network infrastructure, says that the 2Africa project is “a major element of our ongoing investment in Africa to bring more people online to a faster internet. We’ve seen first-hand the positive impact that increased connectivity has on communities, from education to healthcare.”
As of now, neither Facebook nor the various telecom companies involved in the project have revealed how much the investment will cost.
Adding to the List
Facebook’s involvement in yet another subsea cable project shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is just one of many tech companies doing so in recent years. Last summer, Google announced Equiano, a privately-funded subsea cable project to connect Europe and Africa. The first phase of that initiative is scheduled for completion in 2021.
Meanwhile, China’s Huawei completed a 3,750-mile cable project linking Brazil and Cameroon at the end of 2018. Last year, it started working on a project to connect Europe, Asia, and Africa.
As more and more undersea cables are planted, access to the Internet will gradually get more reliable and be available in new parts of the world.