The cable’s landing, which ran thousands of miles along the bottom of the ocean, had been delayed for months due to harsh conditions and Covid-19. But now it was here, a couple of centimeters wide and already covered in sand. A welcoming party stood on the beach and posed for pictures before the cable continued inland. Equiano had finally arrived.
Equiano is the latest undersea internet cable funded by Google. Starting in Portugal and finally ending in South Africa, with branches to Nigeria, Togo, the islands of St Helena and Namibia, the 15,000 kilometer long cable is designed to deliver high-speed broadband along the west coast of Africa. The capacity, a whopping 144 terabits per second, is 20 times greater than the previous cable serving the region and can increase internet speed more than fivefold in some countries.
Barney Harmse was among them on the beach in Swakopmund when the cable landed. He is the CEO of telecommunications company Paratus Group, which worked with Telecom Namibia to deliver the country’s 500 kilometer branch of the cable. “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.”
Closing the digital divide
“With increased Internet access, societies can modernize, people can acquire new skills and knowledge that can open doors to new job opportunities, and businesses and governments can increase productivity and uncover new revenue streams as a result of digital transformation,” said Bikash Koley. Google’s vice president of global networks, in a statement to CNN.
Access does not stop at coastal nations. Harmse says Paratus will connect the Namibian branch of Equiano to the network spanning Angola, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These countries will “experience an immediate benefit” when the cable comes online, he says.
“We invest daily to increase the infrastructure and capacity of our landlocked neighbours,” adds Harmse. “It’s not a simple project with a specific start and stop (point) … it’s like a beast — an organism you need to keep feeding.”
The race to connect
The continent will need both cables and more as internet usage increases and older cables become obsolete or reach the end of their operational life.
Alan Mauldin, research director at 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 it was last year.
While intercontinental cables will continue to play a significant role in Africa’s internet future, so will homegrown data centers. Storing more of the internet’s data in Africa and positioning data centers closer to end users will increase response times and reduce data costs, Harmse explains. “It’s the next big thing,” he says, adding that Paratu’s latest data center, an $8 million project in Namibia’s capital Windhoek, will be completed in August.
Meanwhile, Equiano continues its journey towards South Africa, its final destination, while engineers work to connect the branches of West Africa’s ever-expanding network.
“The race is on,” says Harmse. “Africa is the continent of connecting.”