High demand for internet spurs investment in undersea cables

Summary

  • Growing demand for internet services is spurring large-scale construction of both surface and under-sea cables in Africa

Nairobi. Africa is experiencing increased investments in undersea cable building as telcos and other internet service providers replace old lines and invest in new ones to boost local and international connectivity as the demand for high-speed internet grows exponentially across the continent.

Growing demand for internet services is spurring large-scale construction of both surface and under-sea cables in Africa as technology companies pump in more investments funds to replace old lines and put up new ones.

A new ultra-high capacity submarine fibre optic cable that landed in Kenya’s coastal city, Mombasa on Tuesday (March 29) is among the latest additions to the continent’s internet cable capacity.

The Hong Kong-based PEACE (Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe) cable is a multi-million US dollar investment expected to offer a more stable connection between Africa, Europe and Asia.

This is Kenya’s sixth undersea cable, with a capacity of 16 terabytes per second, which is five times the first five cables. Djibouti Africa Region Express 1 (DARE), SEACOM, East African Marine Cable System( TEAMS), East African Submarine Cable System (EASsy) and Lion2.

According to Telkom Kenya chief executive officer, Mugo Kibati, the cable will boost efficiency and lower internet costs across Kenya and the region.

“This ultra-high capacity cable will assist Kenya and the region in meeting its current and future broadband capacity requirements, bolster redundancy, minimise transit time of our country’s connectivity to Asia and Europe, as well as assist carriers in providing affordable services to Kenyans,” he said.

He said cloud computing, streaming, gaming, connected devices, and customers’ demand for seamless service provision with no interruption are all driving up demand for internet services. However, the Telcom CEO, however, added that the high cost of data and smartphone handsets has been limiting the growth of African users even as mobile adoption in the continent grows gradually.

GSMA’s State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2021 shows that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the cost of 1 GB of data is 4 percent of monthly GDP per capita, which is still above the Broadband Commission target of 2 percent.

According to the report, mobile internet connectivity stood at 28 percent in 2020 growing by two percentage points from 2019, but even then, an estimated 210 million people still live in areas without mobile broadband coverage.

Of the more than 300 million people connected to the internet, 81 per cent had access to 3G, 51 percent to 4G with just 0.4 percent enjoying the latest 5G speeds to stream and run businesses.

The 15,000-kilometre long PEACE cable has been billed to offer high speeds of up to 200 Gbps per single wavelength with a total capacity of 192Tbps - and will help lower costs to users.

The $425 million project funded under Public Private Partnership (P/PP) courtesy of Telkom Kenya, Orange, Telecom Egypt, Cybernet, HMN Tech and PCCW Global is expected to last 25 years.

Pan-African technology group, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, also announced earlier in the week it has acquired a fibre pair on the Google-backed Equiano subsea cable. The firm’s latest acquisition gives it the capacity to transport traffic up to 12 Tbps, and will boost international connectivity in Western and Southern Africa.

In a statement, the company said the Equiano Cable system will address the rising demand for internet capacity in coastal and landlocked African countries as its older subsea cables near the end of their lifespan.

“In the last few years, we have witnessed a steady increase in adoption of digital technologies. This wouldn’t have been possible without our investments in high-speed connectivity in coastal as well as landlocked African countries,” said Liquid Dataport chief executive officer, David Eurin.

The Equiano subsea cable is scheduled to land in Sesimbra (Portugal), Lomé (Togo), Lagos (Nigeria), Swakopmund (Namibia), Rupert’s Bay (Saint Helena) and Melkbosstrand (South Africa) later this year.

In late 2021, Africa became home to one of the longest cables ever planned, after a consortium of telecom operators together with social media giant, Facebook (now Meta), launched 2Africa, stretching 45,000 kilometres across Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Overall, the project will cover 26 countries with Africa accounting for the highest number of countries (19), which will be connected to the cables with a massive potential capacity of over 180 Tbps over 16 fibre pairs.

2Africa is funded by a consortium including China Mobile, Facebook, MTN, Orange, Saudi Telecommunication Company (STC), Telecom Egypt, Vodafone and the West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC).

Another project, West Africa cable, Maroc Telecom West Africa, run by Maroc Telecom, is scheduled to link Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, and Gabon from Casablanca.

These links are among 464 global cables and 1,245 landing stations, as well as major future deployments mapped by TeleGeography, a global telecommunications market research and consulting firm.

The firm’s 2021 Submarine Cable Map notes current and future projects (to be deployed over the next three years) with a value of over 8 billion US dollars.