US giant, Facebook, has announced a new project to boost internet on the African Continent. The move comes after West and South African countries suffered outages from broken cables.
Facebook Inc. and some of the world’s largest telecom carriers including China Mobile are joining forces to build a giant sub-sea cable to help bring more reliable and faster internet across Africa.
Various TV and online news source say Facebook has partnered on the new cable with two of Africa’s biggest wireless carriers, Johannesburg-based MTN Group and Telecom Egypt Co. The U.K.’s Vodafone Group and Paris-based Orange which both have a significant presence on the continent, are also involved. Nokia Oyj’s Alcatel Submarine Networks has been appointed to build the cable.
Bloomberg reports that the cost of the project will be just under $1 billion quoting three people familiar with the project but who requested Bloomberg not to be identified as the budget has not been made public. The 37,000-kilometre long cable — dubbed 2Africa — will connect Europe to the Middle East and 16 African countries.
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 U.S. social-media giant attempted to launch a satellite in 2016 to beam signals around the continent, but the SpaceX rocket carrying the technology blew up on the launchpad.
Google announced its own sub-sea cable connecting Europe to Africa last year, using a route down the west coast.
Facebook’s 2Africa is expected to come into operation by 2024 and will deliver more than the combined capacity of all sub-sea 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 and April after two undersea cables were damaged.
Low data cost?
On one of South Africa’s TV News channels a technology expert said that the Facebook cable will make data more affordable. This is an extremely optimistic view as the main problem on the African continent is lack of internal connectivity. While competition is always healthy, current submarine cables serving Africa have sufficient capacity and can light up more channels when demand increases. Currently the bottle neck is due to insufficient connectivity from the cable landing point to inland users, with South Africa the only exception. Terrestrial rural connectivity will remain a major problem for the foreseeable future with satellite current the best option.
Eon Musk’s Starlink satellite project may offer a more appropriate solution and ultimately beat Facebook in connecting Africa’s unconnected. With many Starlink satellites already in low earth orbit, SpaceX will start providing internet services to customers in the USA and Canada this year with the rest of the world following in 2021.