Facebook and a group of telecom companies including MTN, China Mobile International, Orange, Vodafone and Global Connect are working together to build the most comprehensive undersea cable to serve the African Continent and the middle east region where almost half a billion people are yet to be connected to the internet.
The task has been assigned to Nokia-owned cable systems provider, Alcatel Submarine Networks with building the underwater cable.
Facebook claims the cable will be nearly equal to the circumference of the earth t 37,000 kilometres or about 22,991 miles. It is however not clear how much Facebook and the rest of the companies have invested in the project.
Facebook’s primary objective in this project, is to bring increased connectivity to Africa. In a blog post, the company noted that the continent is ‘the least connected in the world’ with just over a quarter of the population having access to internet connection.
The subsea cable will connect 23 African countries in Africa, including Kenya. Facebook states that it will ‘provide nearly three times the total network capacity of all the subsea cables serving Africa today.’
According to Facebook, the 2Africa project was made more efficient by the use of aluminium rather than copper fibers, as these could help increase network capacity. The company is now developing a new crossing that will link the red sea with the Mediterranean, which it claims will be a first in the region in more than a decade.
“2Africa is a continuation of our ongoing efforts to expand global network infrastructure,” Facebook said. “We have collaborated with partners all over the world to build several subsea fiber-optic cables that are leading the industry in terms of reach, capacity and flexibility.”
The Coronavirus pandemic, unfortunately, could be a challenge. The World Health Organization warned that Africa could be heavily impacted, and could experience fatalities of up to 190,000 in the continent if the virus is not contained.
Stay at home measures have put a strain on existing networks with demand for data consuming services like Netflix on the rise.
However, the move from Facebook signifies increased interest from Silicon Valley in Africa as a lucrative investment opportunity. Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, had last year indicated of his interest to expand into the region- though he has recently shelved the plans due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Google is also working on an underwater cable called Equiano to connect Africa and Europe. The web search giant has another unit named Loon, which makes high altitude balloons that deliver 4G internet to rural areas. These were recently launched in Kenya and have already been deployed in some areas. Google has also expanded the scheme to Mozambique.
Previously, Facebook had plans to beam internet to rural communities using solar-powered drones called Aquila but halted the project in 2018.