Google Equiano to be African job creation machine

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 10 Feb 2022

Google says its subsea Equiano cable, linking Africa and Europe, will significantly boost economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is estimated to create 1.8 million jobs between 2022 and 2025.

Announced in 2019, the subsea cable is expected to be a massive job creation machine, driven by the expansion of the region’s digital economy and peripheral sectors.

The cable, scheduled to land in SA in the second half of this year, will start in Western Europe and run along the West Coast of Africa, between Portugal and SA, with branching units along the way that can be used to extend connectivity to additional African countries.

According to an assessment report commissioned by Google and conducted by Africa Practice, in collaboration with Genesis Analytics, the subsea cable will lower latency and almost triple internet speeds in SA and Namibia by 2025 – a boost that is predicted to create 180 000 jobs in SA, 1.6 million jobs in Nigeria and 21 000 jobs in Namibia in the forecast period.

In an interview with ITWeb, Dr Alistair Mokoena, country director for Google South Africa, said the project, expected to be ready for service later this year, will accelerate digital transformation in all the countries in which it lands, and lower wholesale and retail internet prices.

The cable system is also expected to contribute to a decline in greenhouse gas emissions.

“Equiano will be the first subsea cable in the world to incorporate optical switching at the fibre-pair level rather than only using the traditional approach of wavelength-level switching – giving it approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve this region,” notes Mokoena.

Dr Alistair Mokoena, country director for Google South Africa.
Dr Alistair Mokoena, country director for Google South Africa.

“This fibre pair level management is a paradigm shift in the industry, since previously, companies have traditionally focused on managing wavelengths on a fibre. This greatly simplifies the allocation of cable capacity, giving Google the flexibility to add and reallocate it in different locations as needed.”

Mokoena would not comment on how much Google has invested in the project.

Global companies have over the past few years been channelling investments towards undersea infrastructure to increase connectivity across Africa and other continents – projects expected to spur innovation and lower internet costs on the continent.

The other submarine cable also expected to boost connectivity on the African continent is the 2Africa cable being bankrolled by a consortium comprising Facebook (Meta), China Mobile International, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, stc, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone and WIOCC.

According to Facebook, 2Africa will interconnect 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and provide connectivity for up to three billion people across the globe.

Partnering for additional capacity

Globally, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most underserved region in terms of internet infrastructure, with internet penetration standing at 26%, while for the entire continent (including North Africa), it is 40%, according to the Google report.

Poor connectivity hinders economic growth, poverty reduction, human development and progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. By increasing international bandwidth, Equiano will indirectly broaden access to the internet, thus contributing to narrowing the digital divide within the countries in which it lands, and regions where connectivity is more developed, according to the report.

“By 2025, due to Equiano, internet speeds in Nigeria are expected to increase fivefold, and to almost triple in SA and Namibia.

“Over the same time frame, internet prices are expected to drop by between 16% and 21% in the three countries. Improved speeds and lower prices are expected to increase internet penetration by more than 7% points in Nigeria and SA, and 9 percentage points in Namibia,” notes the report.

Google will not directly provide broadband access to end-users; instead, it will partner with multiple key telecom players such as telcos or infrastructure operators where Equiano lands to ensure the cable’s additional capacity benefits a large number of end-users and businesses across the continent.

Discussing Google’s partners on the project, Mokoena points out: “A contract to build the cable with Alcatel Submarine Networks was signed in 2018, and in Nigeria we are working with WIOCC and in South Africa [we are working] with Openserve.

“We’re excited to bring Equiano online, and look forward to working with licensed partners on additional landings to distribute Equiano’s capacity across Africa.”