Yogi Kamogelo checked her mobile phone for her next online yoga class in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week. Facebook’s investment in subsea data pipelines would potentially double Africa’s bandwidth. PHOTO: KIM LUDBROOK/SHUTTERSTOCK
Facebook Investment in Africa to Expand Internet Capacity Moves Ahead
| le 15 May 2020
The 2Africa project, formerly Simba, promises to more than double continent’s internet capacity with partners in China, Saudi Arabia and Europe
By Drew FitzGerald – The Wall Street Journal
Facebook Inc.’s investment in an enormous underwater internet cable circling Africa will move forward with help from partners in China, Saudi Arabia and Europe, the companies said Thursday.
The 2Africa internet project, called Simba in its planning phase, would link 16 African countries with cable routes to Europe and the Arabian Peninsula.
Other investors include units of China Mobile Ltd., South Africa’s MTN Group Ltd., France’s Orange SA, Saudi Telecom Co., Telecom Egypt, U.K.-based Vodafone Group PLC and WIOCC, a telecom company controlled by several African carriers.
Most international Web traffic moves through fiber-optic cables draped across the floors of the world’s oceans. Technology companies like Facebook, Google-owner Alphabet Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have spent the past decade taking greater ownership stakes in those data pipes, filling a role that previously was the domain of traditional telephone and broadband providers.
The 2Africa system would involve a massive investment even by Silicon Valley standards. The 23,000-mile network is designed to provide more capacity than all of Africa’s existing submarine cables combined, more than doubling the continent’s potential bandwidth.
Facebook declined to detail how much it will spend on the multiyear investment. Michael Ruddy, director of international research for market analyst Terabit Consulting Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., estimated the design unveiled Thursday will cost at least $800 million, with the Menlo Park, Calif., company footing more than $200 million of the bill.
Organizers aim to finish construction by 2023 or early 2024.
Facebook’s investments have moved beyond building private lines to link its own data centers as the company’s infrastructure division prioritizes economic development. Facebook, which also owns the photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp, has said helping connect the more than three billion people who lack internet access will benefit its business in the long run.
Kevin Salvadori, Facebook’s director of network investments, said the company started talking to its project partners in 2018 after executives looked at long-term forecasts of how much population growth and future smartphone use would drive network traffic.
“It’s about developing supply in the market to serve our growing user base and the internet,” he said. “Most users in Africa today are still on 2G devices. When those people have a 4G device, their ability to access video and do so many other things just skyrockets.”
The social-media giant has already joined fiber-optic cable projects linking the U.S. to data hubs in Europe and Asia. It has also invested in projects designed to improve internet access in Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa.
In India, Facebook closed a deal in April to take a $5.7 billion stake in Jio Platforms, a cellphone carrier that upended the country’s wireless market with fast, low-cost mobile phone plans. U.S. private-equity firms followed Facebook’s lead with their own Jio investments.