The lack of legacy digital infrastructure has always been a major drawback for Africa, both for the general pool of consumers and for the rising crop of innovative companies looking to serve the market. Slow internet speeds and truncated coverage has kept digital solutions from getting to the last-mile territory.
However, a small batch of infrastructure projects is looking to change the narrative. The largest and perhaps most progressive of these initiatives is Equiano, embarked on by global internet giant Google, to sustainably connect the unconnected populace, across Africa.
The project, which started a few years ago but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, is now much closer to home. A 12-fiber-pair cable system with a Portuguese point of origin has now landed in Melkbosstrand, a coastal town in the southwest stretch of South Africa, precisely north of Cape Town.
Before now, Equiano has made three landings in Africa, one in Togo, one in Nigeria, and one in Namibia. In between, the cable stretch touched off at the Islands of Saint Helena, a remote volcanic tropical island 1,950 kilometers (1,210 miles) west off the coast of south-western Africa.
Meant to deliver 20 times the existing broadband off its line on the west coast of Africa, Equiano is said to have a capacity of 144 terabytes per second, which is enough to increase the internet speeds of some countries by five times. Named after the Nigerian-born 18th-century writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, is partitive to Google’s USD 1 B investment effort in Africa.
Its landing on South African grounds marks some sort of final destination for what is the highest-capacity Internet cable system ever to touch African shores. However, after becoming operational, Google says Equiano’s capacity will be extended to the neighboring countries surrounding its landing stations. ,
“We are investing daily to increase infrastructure and capacity going into our landlocked neighbors,” Harmse adds. “It’s not a single project with a specific start and stop (point) … it’s like a beast — an organism that you need to keep on feeding,” reads an official statement submitted to CNN.
Africa is the world’s least connected continent, a region where less than 25 percent of people use the internet and where data plans are more expensive than in any other part of the world. Per the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, it would cost Africa USD 109 B to achieve quality, universal and affordable broadband services by 2030.
While Google’s cable project currently dominates Africa’s internet developments, other undersea cable projects are well underway. Chiefly, 2Africa, a 45,000-kilometer project encircling Africa and connecting it to Europe and Asia, made its first African landing in Djibouti last May. The project is funded by a consortium headed by Meta (formerly Facebook).