Google has unveiled plans to build a powerful new undersea internet cable from Europe to Africa, according to Business Insider. Set to be completed by 2021, the company’s “Equiano” cable will offer 20 times the network capacity of the most powerful cable currently in use for Africa. It will use state-of-the-art infrastructure to bring high-speed, and ultimately more affordable, internet to the only continent where less than half of the population has internet access.
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,” Google said in a statement. This approach will allow more flexibility to reallocate the cable’s capacity to different regions as needed.
The cable will also use space division multiplexing, with twelve fiber pairs instead of the eight used in a traditional cable. These innovations will not only add speed and capacity, but in doing so, will reduce the high cost of internet in Africa.
The project is named after 18thcentury Nigerian writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, who bought his freedom from slavery and wrote a memoir of his experiences, which ultimately helped to turn the public against the practice of slavery.
It’s only the third internet cable to be fully funded by Google, although the company has worked as a partner on over a dozen such projects. They signed a contract for construction on the Equiano cable late last year, with Alcatel Submarine Networks.
Estimates of internet access in Africa average about 24 percent, having risen from just 2 percent as recently as 2005. Internet use has grown in Africa despite high costs relative to income, and the continent is now facing a population boom, offering tech companies the chance to bring access to hundreds of millions of new users by reducing these costs.
Facebook is also planning to build an undersea cable that will encircle Africa and reach locations on several different coasts. That project will be called “Simba” after the character in Disney’s The Lion King.
But Google’s plans are much closer to becoming a reality, with confirmed plans to build a cable connecting Portugal and South Africa. The first planned branch will connect the cable to Nigeria.
After these first phases, Google says it is “looking forward to working with licensed partners to bring Equiano’s capacity to even more countries across the African continent,” with nine branching units currently planned for locations along Africa’s western coast.
Google already provides free, public wireless internet in Lagos, Nigeria, and are working to launch Project Loon, which will use high-altitude solar-powered balloons to bring internet access to Kenya.
Photo: David Monniaux [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]