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Facebook develops Asia-Pacific, African subsea connectivity

With the tasty title of Apricot, social media giant unveils role in project to develop ultra-fast connectivity under the sea in key Asian region, while it announces expansion of existing partnership to boost African sea network

Facebook has confirmed its participation in the new Apricot subsea cable system for Asia and has announced expansion of the 2Africa collaboration of which it is a leading member.

Expected to launch in 2024, the 12,000km-long cable is designed to connect Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore and when completed – subject to regulatory approvals – Apricot is designed to deliver what the partners say will be much-needed internet capacity, redundancy and reliability to expand connections in the Asia-Pacific region. Such a cable infrastructure is seen as being able to help meet the growing demand for 4G, 5G and broadband access in the region.

 The network will feature what is described as a “a state-of-the-art” submersible, reconfigurable, optical add-drop multiplexer employing wavelength selective switch for a gridless and flexible bandwidth configuration, based on space division multiplexing design. It will have an initial design capacity of more than 190Tbps to meet rising data demand in the region and support existing cable systems, such as the recently announced Echo and Bifrost cable systems. The latter are part of a similar subsea cable project to provide vital new connections between the Asia-Pacific region and North America.

Facebook said: “The Apricot cable is part of our ongoing effort to expand global network infrastructure and better serve the more than 3.5 billion people around the world who use our services every month. To accomplish this, we collaborate with partners all over the world to build subsea fibre-optic cables. Apricot is the latest example of our innovative partnership model, in which all parties benefit from developing scale infrastructure and shared technology expertise.”

Meanwhile, across the globe, the 2Africa consortium – of which Facebook is a member, along with China Mobile International, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, stc, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone and WIOCC – has added four new branches of the cable infrastructure. First announced in May 2020, 2Africa is claimed to be the most comprehensive subsea cable to serve the African continent and the Middle East region.

It is intended to enhance internet connectivity, capacity and reliability across Africa and the Middle East and the consortium says communities that rely on the internet for services ranging from education to healthcare, and business will experience the economic and social benefits that come from this increased connectivity.

The network 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 new branches are designed to extend connectivity to the Seychelles, the Comoros Islands and Angola, and bring a new landing to south-east Nigeria. The new branches join the recently announced extension to the Canary Islands.

Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) has been selected to deploy the new branches, which will increase the number of 2Africa landings to 35 in 26 countries, further improving connectivity into and around Africa. As with other 2Africa cable landings, capacity will be available to service providers at carrier-neutral datacentres or open-access cable landing stations on a fair and equitable basis, encouraging and supporting the development of a healthy internet ecosystem.

Most of the subsea route survey activity is now complete. ASN has started manufacturing the cable and building repeater units in its factories in Calais and Greenwich to deploy the first segments in 2022.

One of 2Africa’s key segments, the Egypt terrestrial crossing that interconnects landing sites on the Red and the Mediterranean Seas via two diverse terrestrial routes, has been completed ahead of schedule. A third diverse marine path will complement this segment via the Red Sea.

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