Running thousands of miles across the sea floor, the cable’s landing had been delayed for months by harsh conditions and Covid-19. But now there it was, inches wide and already covered in sand. A welcome party was held on the beach and posed for photos before the cable continued inland. Equiano had finally arrived.
Equiano is the latest undersea internet cable funded by Google. Beginning in Portugal and eventually ending in South Africa, with branches in Nigeria, Togo, the islands of Saint Helena and Namibia, the 15,000 kilometer (9,320 mile) cable is designed to provide broadband to broadband along the west coast of Africa. . Its capacity, a whopping 144 terabits per second, is 20 times greater than the previous cable serving the region and could boost internet speeds fivefold in some countries.
Barney Harmse was among those on Swakopmund beach when the cable landed. He is the CEO of telecommunications company Paratus Group, which worked alongside Telecom Namibia to provide the country’s 500 kilometer cable branch. “We’re excited as hell, I have to say,” he told CNN before landing. “It’s going to have a huge impact on our part of the world.”
Bridging the digital divide
“With increased access to the Internet, societies can modernize, people can acquire new skills and knowledge that can open the door to new job opportunities, and businesses and governments can increase productivity and discover new sources of revenue through digital transformation,” Bikash Koley, Google’s vice president of global networks, said in a statement to CNN.
Access does not stop at coastal countries. Harmse says Paratus will connect Equiano’s Namibian branch to its network which covers Angola, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These countries “will see an immediate benefit” when the cable comes online, he says.
“We are investing daily to increase the infrastructure and capacity of our landlocked neighbours,” adds Harmse. “It’s not a one-time project with a specific start and stop (point)…it’s like a beast – an organism that you have to keep nurturing.”
The race to connect
The continent will need both cables and more as internet usage expands and older cables become obsolete or reach the end of their operational life.
Alan Mauldin, research director at telecommunications market research firm TeleGeography, says demand for international bandwidth in Africa tripled between 2018 and 2021, and that by 2028 demand will be 16 times greater than that. from last year.
While intercontinental cables will continue to play an important role in Africa’s Internet future, so will local data centers. Storing more internet data in Africa and positioning data centers closer to end users will speed up response time and reduce data costs, says Harmse. “It’s the next big thing,” he says, adding that Paratus’ latest data center, an $8 million project in Namibia’s capital Windhoek, will be completed in August.
In the meantime, Equiano continues its journey to South Africa, its final destination, while engineers work to connect its branches to the ever-growing West African network.
“The race is on,” says Harmse. “Africa is the continent to connect.”