Almost as long as the equator, a capacity three times higher than all previous cables: Facebook is planning a new Internet connection for Africa and between Africa and Europe. It’s about a lot of new users.

A map shows where the Facebook cable should run.

EIn a consortium around the Facebook group, a huge new submarine internet cable is building to better connect the African continent. According to the American technology company, the project, which bears the name “2Africa”, will have a capacity that “is almost three times the size of all submarine cables that supply Africa today”. This was announced by the largest social network in the world in a blog post on its website.

The cable, which will be almost as long as the equator at 37,000 kilometers, will connect a total of 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. According to the communication, one goal is closer ties between East Africa and West Africa. In addition, a cable will improve the connection between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

In addition to Facebook and some local telecommunications companies, China Mobile, the South African provider MTN, the French company Orange and the British Vodafone group are also involved in the project. The cable is scheduled to go into operation in late 2023 or early 2024.

According to Facebook, the new cable should not only increase capacity, but also make connections more secure and stable. When two submarine cables in the Atlantic that connect Europe and some African countries fell apart in January, there were restrictions in mobile roaming and calls.

Bild: facebook Engineering

Google is also working on undersea cables

With the arrival of new technologies such as the next 5G cellular standard, data traffic will continue to increase rapidly. Likewise, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many activities were relocated to the Internet. The Frankfurt Internet hub De-Cix registered records in data traffic and, for example, a doubling for video conferences. Due to the greater stress on the infrastructure, various providers of video streaming services have throttled the quality of their films and thereby reduced data traffic.

Facebook is involved in internet infrastructure projects around the world. In addition, the group is pursuing plans to use drones and satellites to connect even remote locations to the Internet. So far, however, these have not been successful.

In addition to Facebook, Google is also working on similar projects. A submarine cable in the Atlantic called Equiano, named after a writer and activist from Nigeria, is supposed to connect Portugal and South Africa. The search engine operator has a whole network of submarine cables.

“This is no boon”

The media scientist Payal Arora, who conducts research in the Netherlands, expressed herself critically about the project initiated by Facebook. “There is a serious discussion going on in Europe and America about how to limit the power of Facebook. Now the company is turning to Africa, where the markets of the future are, ”Arora told the FAZ. In the African countries, however, there were no corresponding institutions and regulations to guarantee the data security of the population.

Arora is reminiscent of the digital currency Libra, which Facebook announced last year, but which was not only captured by the American financial authorities. “The digital companies are richer than some states and see themselves as autonomous actors.”

She warns against interpreting Facebook’s plans as altruistic for the continent. “Of course it’s an important initiative,” she says: “These guys have the capital to do it. But that’s not a boon, it’s an investment in your future business model, a business deal. And as such, it should also meet certain contractual conditions. “

Arora warns once again that governments in Africa should recognize the value of their people’s data. They are in a strong negotiating position in view of the competition from China with companies such as Alibaba. The countries would have to jointly create structures for secure data management and an independent control body. “The interests of people and not of companies should come first.”

According to various estimates, between 25 and 40 percent of the population on the African continent has access to the Internet, and around one in six is ​​active on social media. Unlike in Europe, where Facebook has lost its popularity, especially among the younger population, the network in Africa continues to gain more users and is used intensively for social exchange.