Africa is currently the least-connected continent to the internet, with just over one-quarter of its 1.3 billion people online, and Facebook is looking to change that by going underwater.
The social network is teaming up with African and global telecommunications operators to build 2Africa, which represents one of the largest subsea cable projects in the world and will interconnect 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
Vice president of network engineering Najam Ahmad and director of network investments Kevin Salvadori said in a Newsroom post that 2Africa will be 37,000 kilometers long, nearly equal to the circumference of the Earth, and it will provide nearly three times the total network capacity of all the subsea cables currently serving Africa.
They wrote, “When completed, this new route will deliver much-needed internet capacity, redundancy and reliability across Africa; supplement a rapidly increasing demand for capacity in the Middle East; and support further growth of 4G, 5G and broadband access for hundreds of millions of people.”
Facebook and its partners are also developing a new crossing that links the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, marking the first in this region in over a decade.
The company said that in countries where the 2Africa cable lands, service providers will obtain capacity in carrier-neutral data centers and open-access cable landing stations on a fair and equitable basis.
Ahmad and Salvadori also detailed some of the technology behind the project, saying that 2Africa is the first system of its size to use an innovative aluminum conductor for submarine cable systems, and the implementation of SDM1 (Spatial Division Multiplexing) technology doubled the maximum of eight fiber pairs supported by older technology.
They added that this project marks the first time that wavelength selective switching will be used in Africa, enabling more flexible capacity management.
Ahmad and Salvadori wrote, “One of the most important features of the 2Africa cable is that it was designed with resiliency in mind to attain optimal performance. The cable design itself provides an increase of 50% in burial depth—up to three meters—to ensure the highest availability with greater protection against damage. In addition, we designed the cable routing using advanced techniques to avoid areas of known subsea disturbance to ensure the highest levels of availability.”
They concluded, “2Africa is a continuation of our ongoing efforts to expand global network infrastructure. We have collaborated with partners all over the world to build several subsea fiber-optic cables that are leading the industry in terms of reach, capacity and flexibility.”