Google cable plans to bring millions more Africans online

By Quentin Velluet

Posted on Thursday, 4 July 2019 17:15
Google's CEO Sundar Pichai (L) speaks during an interview with journalist Adesuwa Onyenokwe during a conference tagged 'Google for Nigeria' in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, July 27, 2017. Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

The internet giant Google announced the construction of an underwater cable – named “Equiano” – stretching from Lisbon, Portugal, to Cape Town, South Africa. The first phase of the project is scheduled for completion in 2021.

This follows the launch of its “Project Loon” in Kenya. Working in conjunction with Telkom Kenya, Loon provides internet access through solar-powered airships equipped with networking hardware flying over remote regions where traditional cell towers are difficult or expensive to build and maintain. The Loon technology has been tested successfully in Peru and Puerto Rico after the countries were hit by natural disasters that temporarily knocked out the wireless infrastructure.

Google seems determined to accelerate its plans to connect the continent. On Friday, 28 June, the company said that Equiano (named after the Nigerian writer and former slave Olaudah Equiano) would link nine countries on the continent to Europe.

Nigeria will be the first country on the continent to be linked to Equiano. This is partly due to logistics (its proximity to Portugal) and to the fact that it has the continent’s largest internet market. The French-owned Alcatel Submarine Networks is building the infrastructure, though Google is funding the entire operation. The first phase – linking South Africa to Portugal – is expected to be completed in 2021. The total cost of the operation has yet to be specified.

State-of-the-art technology

“The Equiano cable is a state-of-the-art infrastructure based on spatial division multiplexing technology, with a network capacity approximately 20 times greater than the last cable built to serve this region,” Google said in a press release. In other words, this cable technology will provide improved performance for the same power consumption, or lower, than existing cables.

Equiano is the company’s third international private cable after “Dunant” and “Curie”, which connect France to the United States and Chile to Los Angeles, respectively. It is also the Mountain View giant’s fourteenth investment in submarine cables worldwide. The leading search engine company has invested $47bn in improving its global technology infrastructure over the past three years.

Connecting the continent

The Equiano project certainly is one of Google’s most ambitious Africa initiatives to date, but it is not the company’s only infrastructure project on the continent. In Ghana, Liberia, and Uganda, Google operates through its brand CSquared, which is supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the South African venture capital firm Convergence Partners and the Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co. Since 2013, the CSquared has installed several fibre-optic networks in the main cities of these three countries.

All these projects are aligned with Google’s long-term strategy to connect the continent in order to attract more users. Google leads Facebook in this respect. However, the Mark Zuckerberg-run social network recently announced it was working on an underwater cable project – “Simba” – that aims to cover the entire continent once completed.

This article was first published in Jeune Afrique.

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