The cable runs thousands of miles along the ocean floor, and its landing has been delayed for months due to harsh conditions and the impact of Covid-19. But now it’s here, inches wide and covered in sand. A welcome party stood on the beach and posed for pictures before the cable continued inland. Equiano is finally here.
Equiano is the latest undersea internet cable to be funded by Google. Starting in Portugal and ending in South Africa, branching out to Nigeria, Togo, St. Helena and Namibia, the 15,000 km (9,320 mi) cable is designed to provide high-speed broadband along the west coast of Africa. It has a capacity of up to 144 terabytes per second, It’s 20 times faster than the cable previously served in the region, and can increase internet speeds in some countries by more than five times.
Barney Harms was on the beach in Swakopmund when the cable landed. He is the CEO of the telecommunications company Paratus Group, which has partnered with Telecom Namibia to deliver 500 kilometers of cable branches in the country. “I must say, we are very excited,” he told CNN before landing. “It’s going to have a huge impact on the world we live in.”
Bridging the digital divide
“As internet access increases, societies can be modernized, people can acquire new skills and knowledge, which opens doors to new employment opportunities, and businesses and governments can increase productivity and discover new revenue streams through digital transformation,” Bikash Koley, Google’s vice president of global networking, said in a statement to CNN.
Visits don’t stop with coastal countries. Harmse said Paratus will connect Equiano’s Namibian branch with its network spanning Angola, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Those countries will benefit “immediately” when cable goes live, he said.
“We are investing every day to increase infrastructure and capacity into our landlocked neighbours,” Harmse added. “It’s not a single project with a specific start and end (point) … it’s like a beast — an organism that you need to keep feeding.”
As internet usage grows, the continent will need cables and more cables, and old cables will become obsolete or reach the end of their useful life.
African demand for international bandwidth tripled between 2018 and 2021, and by 2028, demand will be 16 times what it was last year, said Alan Mauldin, research director at telecom market research firm TeleGeography.
While Intercontinental Cable will continue to play an important role in Africa’s internet future, so will homegrown data centers. Storing more internet data in Africa and locating data centers closer to end users will speed up response times and reduce data costs, Harmse explained. “This is the next big thing,” he said, adding that Paratus’ newest data center, an $8 million project in Namibia’s capital Windhoek, will be completed in August.
Meanwhile, Equiano continues its journey to its final destination, South Africa, while engineers work to connect its branches to the growing network in West Africa.
“The game is on,” Harms said. “Africa is connecting continents.”