• Home
  • /
  • Broadband
  • /
  • Facebook invests in tech to connect billions through 2Africa

Facebook invests in tech to connect billions through 2Africa

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 07 Oct 2021

Social media giant Facebook says it has invested heavily in connectivity technologies to ensure 2Africa Pearls, the subsea cable connecting Africa, Asia and Europe, will provide connectivity for up to three billion people across the globe.

During a media conference this week, the American multinational technology company, based in California, announced several new connectivity technologies to help deliver major improvements in internet capacity and expand connectivity across its sea cables, land and air projects, to bring more people online.

2Africa Pearls, billed as the world’s longest subsea cable system, is a Facebook-backed project being built by the 2Africa consortium, which comprises China Mobile International, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, stc, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone and WIOCC.

Connecting three continents − Africa, Europe and Asia terrestrially through Egypt − 2Africa creates connectivity by adding vital landing locations in Oman (Barka), UAE (Abu Dhabi and Kalba), Qatar (Doha), Bahrain (Manama), Kuwait (Kuwait), Iraq (Al-Faw), Pakistan (Karachi), India (Mumbai), and a fourth landing in Saudi Arabia (Al Khobar), it says.

According to Facebook, the subsea cable will interconnect 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Facebook’s internet business unit, Facebook Connectivity, this week shared the latest developments on some of its connectivity technologies, which aim to improve internet capacity across the world, developed in collaboration with partners.

Since 2013, Facebook Connectivity says it has accelerated access to faster internet for over 300 million people around the world, and connecting the next billion will require many different approaches and increased access to a more reliable and affordable internet for everyone.

According to the GSM Association, 47% of the world's population (approximately 3.6 billion people) do not have access to the internet and lack of coverage is one reason for this.

With only a quarter of Africa’s 1.3 billion citizens currently connected to the internet, the 2Africa subsea cable system seeks to provide nearly three times the total network capacity of all the subsea cables serving Africa today.

During the event, Dan Rabinovitsj, VP of Facebook Connectivity, announced the following technologies targeted at the part of the world either lacking adequate access to the internet, or remaining completely unconnected:

  • A set of new technologies that will enable floating, solar-powered buoys in the middle of the ocean to help sea cables carry much greater volumes of data.
  • A robot called Bombyx that moves along power lines, wrapping them with fibre cable to slash the time and cost required to rollout fibre-optic internet to communities.
  • Facebook has developed Terragraph, a wireless technology that delivers internet at fibre speed over the air. This technology has already brought high-speed internet to more than 6 500 homes in Anchorage, Alaska, and deployment has started in other parts of the world, including in Perth, Australia.

“Subsea cables lay the foundation for the global internet connecting continents, and as we build more than 150 000km of them with our partners, we’re also working on new technologies that will enable floating, solar-powered buoys in the middle of the ocean to help these cables carry much greater volumes of data,” explained Rabinovitsj.

“For this reason, we continue to invest in improving subsea fibre-optic cables and expanding their reach so we can better connect more people. While we take a global perspective, we are also focused on incremental innovations. For instance, portions of the 2Africa project will use a new aluminium conductor system, replacing traditional copper conductors, which makes such a massive cable more economical to build.”

At the moment, the capacity of the subsea cable is limited by the amount of electricity that can be delivered from shore to a series of repeaters (which boost the signal along the length of the cable) placed about every 80km along the cable.

To solve this challenge, Facebook says its engineers are working on buoys that can deliver power to the repeaters from the middle of the ocean.

Robotics for speed

While subsea cables are part of the foundation of the global internet, once a subsea cable reaches shore, the next step is to deliver bandwidth to communities. But current methods of deploying fibre are labour-intensive and costly, notes Facebook.

The solution, it says, is Bombyx, an aerial fibre deployment robot that makes it faster and cheaper to deploy fibre.

“Bombyx is our attempt to make the single biggest drop in the cost of terrestrial fibre deployment by combining innovations in the fields of robotics and fibre-optic cable design to increase the amount of terrestrial fibre on land − without the expense of trenching to lay fibre underground,” says Karthik Yogeeswaran, wireless systems engineer at Facebook.

“While there have been tremendous improvements in the strength and size of a fibre strand, as well as the amount of data a strand can carry, there has not yet been a widely applicable solution for reducing the cost of fibre construction.”

This technology will enable equal construction of fibre in rural and lower-income communities as well as affluent ones, providing open access to the fibre, and fair and equitable pricing, notes Facebook.