The big guns of Silicon Valley, Google and Facebook, are in a race to bring high-speed broadband to Africa via submarine cables.
Although Google and Facebook abandoned in late September their joint project for a submarine communications cable between the United States and Hong Kong (see the report in our sister letter Intelligence Online), the titans of Californian tech may well step up their efforts to install cables in Africa. Both are seeking to bring high-speed broadband to the continent, but this time as rivals.
This strategically important and highly lucrative sector has been attracting numerous investors, and even more so in the wake of coronavirus: the major donors see the internet industry as a lever for economic recovery. On 5 October, the French public agency Proparco lent $60m to the Mauritiusbased telecommunications firm West Indian Ocean Cable Co (WIOCC), which is a shareholder in several of Africa’s main submarine cables including EASSy along the eastern coast from Sudan to South Africa, and WACS along the western coast.
Google is seeking to build a network that can transmit data much faster than these cables. In late 2018, the world’s leading search engine embarked on the construction of a new cable running along the west African coastline from Portugal to South Africa. The company has baptised this project Equiano and it is ultimately owned by Alphabet, the Google holding company that is still controlled by its founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Facebook upped the ante in May of the following year with an even more ambitious project called 2Africa, which will run around the entire continent.
Whereas Google is the sole owner of Equiano, Facebook is working with several major operators which are also shareholders in 2Africa, among them China Mobile International (CMI, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Mobile), Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Telecom, France’s Orange and South Africa’s MTN. But the big winner on these two projects is the French firm Alcatel, which will be responsible for constructing both cables through its subsidiary Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN).