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Google officially unveils Equiano, eyes R120bn GDP boost

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 01 Sept 2022
Google has officially unveiled its Equiano submarine internet cable in Cape Town.
Google has officially unveiled its Equiano submarine internet cable in Cape Town.

Google officially unveiled its Equiano submarine internet cable in Cape Town today – a massive initiative in which the tech giant has invested a total of $1 billion (R17 billion).

Announced in 2019, Africa’s highest-capacity subsea internet cable, which landed at Melkbosstrand north of Cape Town on 8 August, starts in Western Europe and runs along the West Coast of Africa, between Portugal and SA. Branching units along the way can be used to extend connectivity to additional African countries.

The initiative, which is expected to go live before the end of the year, will be a massive job creation machine, forecast to create 1.8 million jobs by 2025, with 180 000 of these employment opportunities to be specifically created locally, according to Google.

Telkom’s Openserve has teamed up with Google as a landing partner in SA for the undersea cable, and will offer terrestrial services, connecting the cable landing to South African carrier-neutral data centres.

During the official launch held at Openserve’s cable station facility in Melkbosstrand today, Google said the massive project will boost further investments in SA and uplift the economy by contributing an estimated 2.5% to the county’s GDP.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Alistair Mokoena, country director for Google SA, explained: “Google is committed to helping drive digital transformation in Africa, and the Equiano cable is a major part of that commitment.

“Our total investment pledge in this project is $1 billion (R17 billion), and in South Africa, we anticipate that it will increase the GDP by up to $7 billion (R120 billion) by 2025. The cable will not only improve internet speeds and affordability, but will help to support the growth of the digital economy in Africa.”

According to Mokoena, as part of the pledge, Google has committed to support small businesses through the Africa Investment Fund, to the amount of $50 million (R858 million), as well as by investing $3 million (R51.4 million) in the Black Founders Fund. The tech giant has also committed to train 10 million youth in digital skills over the next five years, among other initiatives that fall under the pledge.

Equiano runs from Portugal, along the west coast of Africa to South Africa. It is the first submarine cable to incorporate optical switching at the fibre-pair level as opposed to the traditional approach of wavelength-level switching.

Openserve CEO Althon Beukes also addressed attendees at the event: “The Equiano undersea cable will ultimately transform the connectivity experience in SA from internet service providers (ISPs) to the end-user. ISPs will be able to provide lower retail prices and the end-user will enjoy seamless connectivity, lower latency and faster internet speeds.”

On a continent considered the most under-served region in the world – with a large number of citizens who have been left out of the digital economy – the Equiano cable is expected to deliver high-speed broadband, at 144-terabits per second. This is around 20 times the amount of the previous cable that served the region, according to a report commissioned by Google.

The report also notes Equiano will enable data prices to drop by between 16% and 21% in SA, Namibia and Nigeria – countries where high data costs have hindered wide-scale internet adoption.

Telkom Group CEO Serame Taukobong said: “The connectivity that will be unlocked through Equiano will have an immense impact on the ICT sector and the domestic economy overall.

“The capacity that Equiano offers will make connectivity more accessible and affordable, helping to bridge the digital divide in SA. Making connectivity more attainable will also allow small businesses to embrace digital innovation and fully step into the digital economy.”