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Chris Wood’s interview with Fin24: “A new undersea cable is landing in Cape Town to bring super-fast internet.”

  • Google’s Equiano subsea cable is set to land near Cape Town in December.
  • It promises faster internet and could ultimately lead to a drop in prices, though local network operators have the final call to make. 
  • Existing cables servicing Africa are close to capacity. 

After traversing the depths of the ocean for over 12 000km, Google’s Equiano subsea cable is expected to land near Cape Town towards the end of the year, bringing with it a promise of a faster and more resilient internet connectivity.

Only 17mm wide at deep sea levels, the heavily insulated cable packs a giant punch, with a capacity of 144 terabits per second.

The journey, which began in Portugal, is snaking down Africa’s west coast, where cables are being rolled out under the ocean to meet the continent’s growing need for broadband. South Africa’s first submarine cable arrived in 2009, but the CEO of West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC), Chris Wood, says the environment has undergone major changes since then.

“When the first cable came to South Africa, networks had to be built out. The same thing needs to happen again. We still need to expand the network,” he told Fin24.

“Consumer companies that are delivering fibre to the home, and wireless to the home, need to build those networks to get to consumers.”

Wood explained that the existing cables servicing Africa was getting very close to reaching full capacity, due to increased demand for fibre and 5G services, which had seen traffic volumes shoot up over the last few years.

WIOCC, the wholesale supplier of carrier-scale network infrastructure, is one of the partners in delivering the “high-capacity” internet cable.

Expand networks

The Equiano cable is set to complete its route in December.

A vessel laden with mounds of cables left Portugal earlier this year, with engineers aboard sinking lines upon lines on the seabed before making the first landing in Lome, Togo in March, and then Lagos in April.

The journey to the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean will take it to Swakopmund, Rupert’s Bay, Saint Helena and Melkbosstrand, some 30km north of Cape Town.

“When you bring fibre into a country, it starts a cascade of development…it drives economic growth.”

Wood hinted that the new cable could ultimately bring down the cost of internet; however, local network operators still have the last call on costs.

“Technology has changed over the years and more capacity is needed for Africa as fibre gets rolled out to the home. What the Equiano cable brings to the market is high-capacity.”

Small size, big output

The tiny cable is more robust the closer it gets to the shore.

“As it comes to the shore, we put more armoured cable … and you have the thickness of about 45mm, but down below, the cable is only 17mm,” said Wood.

He said the demand for fibre on the African continent is affected by different factors such as population and economic growth, while the traffic is generated by people and economic growth in those countries.

A minimum of $500 million capital investment was pulled by as a group of companies involved in the project and Wood said WIOCC committed close to $200 million, which it acquired through debt and equity capital raise.

Part of the funds would be used to launch a network of Pan-African data centres, which the company is aggressively pursuing.

WIOCC operates exclusively as a wholesaler, and offers connectivity to mobile network carriers, content providers, cloud operators and internet service providers in more than 30 African countries.

The company is also involved in the 2Africa consortium, which is bringing another internet cable along the west and the east coast of Africa. Other consortium partners in the 2Africa project are China Mobile International, Facebook, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, stc, Telecom Egypt and Vodafone.

The 2Africa cable is expected to be ready in the early part of 2023, and the west coast is set to be complete by the end of 2024.


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