Running for thousands of miles along the sea floor, the cable’s landing was delayed for months by harsh conditions and Covid-19. But now here, a few inches wide and already covered in sand. A welcome party stood on the beach and took pictures before the cable continued inside. Equiano has finally arrived.
Equiano is the newest subsea internet cable funded by Google. Starting in Portugal and ending in South Africa, with branches to Nigeria, Togo, Saint Helena and Namibia, the 15,000-kilometre (9,320-mile) cable is designed to deliver high-speed broadband along the west coast of Africa. It has a capacity of 144 terabytes per second, 20 times that of the previous cable serving the region and Internet speeds can increase more than five times in some countries.
Barney Harms was among those on the beach in Swakopmund when the cable fell. He is the CEO of telecommunications company Paratus Group, which has worked alongside Telecom Namibia to deliver the country’s 500-kilometre branch of cable. “We’re very excited, I have to say,” he told CNN before landing. “It will have a tremendous impact on the part of the world in which we live.”
Bridging the digital divide
“With increased access to the Internet, societies can modernize, people can acquire new skills and knowledge that can open doors to new business opportunities, and businesses and governments can increase productivity and unlock new sources of income as a result of digital transformation,” said Bikash Kohli, Vice President of Global Networks, In a statement to CNN.
Access does not stop at the coastal states. Harmse says Paratus will connect the Namibian branch of Equiano to its network that spans Angola, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He says these countries will “realize an immediate benefit” when the cable is connected to the Internet.
“We are investing daily to increase infrastructure and access to our landlocked neighbours,” Harms adds. “It’s not a single project with a definite start and stop (point)…it’s like a monster – an organism that you need to keep feeding.”
race to connect
The continent will need both cables and more as internet use grows, and older cables become obsolete or reach the end of their operational life.
Demand for international bandwidth in Africa tripled between 2018 and 2021, and by 2028, demand will be 16 times greater than it was last year, says Alan Mauldin, director of research at telecom market research firm TeleGeography.
While intercontinental cables will continue to play an important role in the future of the Internet in Africa, so will local data centers. Harms explains that storing more Internet data in Africa and placing data centers closer to end users will speed up response time and reduce data costs. “It’s the next big thing,” he says, adding that Paratus’ latest data center, an $8 million project in the Namibian capital of Windhoek, will be completed in August.
Meanwhile, Equiano continues its journey towards South Africa, its final destination, while engineers work to connect its subsidiaries to West Africa’s ever-growing network.
“The race is on,” Harms says. “Africa is the continent for communication.”