This week has seen the announcement of a potentially highly significant addition to the growing number of subsea cable networks serving Africa. In fact the partnership announcing it claims that it will be the most comprehensive subsea cable to serve the African continent and Middle East region.
China Mobile International, Facebook, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, stc, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone and WIOCC will partner to deliver the cable, called 2Africa. The parties have appointed Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) to build the cable.
At 37,000km long, 2Africa will be one of the world’s largest subsea cable projects. It will interconnect Europe (eastward via Egypt), the Middle East (via Saudi Arabia), and 21 landings in 16 countries in Africa. The system is expected to go live in 2023/4, delivering more than the total combined capacity of all subsea cables serving Africa today, with a design capacity of up to 180Tbps on key parts of the system.
The partners say that 2Africa will deliver internet capacity and reliability across large parts of Africa, supplement the fast-growing capacity demand in the Middle East and underpin the further growth of 4G, 5G and fixed broadband access for hundreds of millions of people.
In countries where the 2Africa cable will land, service providers will obtain capacity in carrier-neutral data centres or open-access cable landing stations on a fair and equitable basis. This, the partners say, will support healthy internet ecosystem development by facilitating greatly improved accessibility for businesses and consumers alike.
The 2Africa cable includes the option of a seamless optical crossing between East Africa and Europe. The 2Africa parties and Airtel have signed an agreement with Telecom Egypt to provide a completely new crossing linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, the first in over a decade. This includes new cable landing stations and deployment of next-generation fibre on two new, diverse terrestrial routes parallel to the Suez Canal from Ras Ghareb to Port Said, and a new subsea link that will provide a third path between Ras Ghareb and Suez.
The 2Africa cable will implement a new technology, SDM from ASN, allowing deployment of up to 16 fibre pairs instead of the eight fibre pairs supported by older technologies. The cable will incorporate optical switching technology to enable flexible management of bandwidth. Cable burial depth has also been increased by 50 percent compared to older systems, and cable routing will avoid locations of known subsea disturbance.
This is clearly an extraordinary undertaking and, not surprisingly, all the parties involved are expressing high hopes for the project and excitement about its potential effect on African and Middle Eastern telecommunications. If the 2023/4 start-up date is met, it won’t be long before we find out whether their hopes are justified.