Could undersea cables spell innovation in connectivity for Africa?

Cable investment is up, with Google and Facebook planning to establish links to sub-Saharan Africa, but immediate benefits will elude much of the region.

SD-WAN  >  The concept of a visual transition from hardware cables to software code.
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Investment in undersea infrastructure to increase connectivity to and from the African continent has been on the rise over the past year with both Google and Facebook announcing plans to link Africa in different ways.

Google's Equiano cable will link Portugal to South Africa, and there are plans to create branches to Nigeria and potentially other African countries at a later stage. Facebook's planned Simba cable will seek to link Africa's eastern, western and Mediterranean coasts, with a view to providing the social media giant with a dedicated connection to the African market.

Simba has been described as an underwater ring around Africa and Facebook has spoken about its plans to drive down its bandwidth costs, which it hopes will, in turn, make it easier for people in Africa to sign up for its social media offerings. There is no real detail though on exactly which countries the cable will connect or how many countries it will impact. Equiano, on the other hand, has more concrete but still nebulous plans which include an initial connection from Portugal to Nigeria and then on to South Africa.

The Equiano cable, which is fully funded by Google, is a state-of-the-art infrastructure based on space-division multiplexing (SDM) technology, according to Jonathan Wilkins, director at industrial automation parts supplier EU Automation, which works with a network of golobal sources. "This means that Equiano will allow for approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve this region," he says.

Google claims that the Equiano will be the "first subsea cable to incorporate optical switching at the fiber-pair level, rather than the traditional approach of wavelength-level switching." Completion is planned for 2021.

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