Global consortium launches ‘transformative’ subsea cable for African connectivity

2Africa, one of the world’s largest subsea projects, will connect 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe

Facebook, Vodafone, China Mobile International, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, STC, Telecom Egypt and WIOCC have announced they are teaming up to build 2Africa, claimed to be the most comprehensive subsea cable to serve the African continent and the Middle East region.

2Africa is intended to enhance internet connectivity, capacity and reliability across Africa and the Middle East. 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.

It will 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.

At 37,000km long, 2Africa will be one of the world’s largest subsea cable projects and will interconnect Europe, eastward via Egypt, the Middle East via Saudi Arabia, and 21 landings in 16 countries in Africa. Following its recent work with Orange, Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) will build the cable in a fully funded project.

In countries where the 2Africa cable will land, service providers will obtain capacity in carrier-neutral datacentres or open-access cable landing stations on a fair and equitable basis. This will support healthy internet ecosystem development by facilitating greatly improved accessibility for businesses and consumers alike.

The 2Africa parties and Airtel have signed an agreement with Telecom Egypt to provide a new crossing linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, the first in more than 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, spatial division multiplexing (SDM) from ASN, which allows deployment of up to 16 fibre pairs instead of the eight fibre pairs supported by older technologies. This is said to bring much greater and more cost-effective capacity.

The cable will incorporate optical switching technology to enable flexible management of bandwidth. Cable burial depth is said to have increased by 50% compared to older systems, and cable routing will avoid locations of known subsea disturbance, all helping to ensure highest levels of availability.

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“We are excited to be collaborating with our 2Africa partners on the most comprehensive subsea cable that will serve the continent,” said Najam Ahmad, vice-president, network infrastructure at Facebook. “We have seen first-hand the positive impact that increased connectivity has on communities, from education to healthcare.

“We know that economies flourish when there is widely accessible internet for businesses. 2Africa is a key pillar supporting this tremendous internet expansion as part of Africa’s surging digital economy.”

Vinod Kumar, CEO of Vodafone Business, said: “Improving connectivity for Africa is a significant step which lays the groundwork for increased digitisation across the continent. 2Africa will give local businesses and consumers a better online experience, while more connectivity between Africa, Europe and the Middle East will help to build a wider, more inclusive digital society across the globe.”

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