Say hello to Equiano | web computing

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Alistair Mokoena, Google SA.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the least well-served region in the world when it comes to Internet infrastructure. And it’s not just lagging a bit, it’s significantly lagging behind the rest of the world.

This internet usage gap is caused by three main factors: affordability, a lack of digital literacy and limited consumer services, says Alistair Mokoena, country manager for Google South Africa. But rather than seeing this scenario only in a negative light, the underdeveloped nature of sub-Saharan Africa’s telecommunications infrastructure presents significant investment and development opportunities that can serve as a catalyst for socio-economic transformation. -economic in the region. An opportunity that Google wants to seize.

Google’s Equiano undersea cable will establish a new 144 Tbps broadband connection between Europe and Africa. But why does Google get involved in infrastructure development?

Mokoena is adamant that it’s not just about economic considerations. “Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful to society,” he says. As part of this mission, Google is building global infrastructure to help bring faster, more affordable internet to underserved communities so they can access this information. “Infrastructure development can help increase affordability and increase adoption. Submarine cables are essential to this.

Leaving from Portugal, the Equiano cable travels more than 12,000 km along the west coast of Africa, landing in Lomé (Togo); in Lagos (Nigeria); in Swakopmund (Namibia); in Rupert Bay (Saint Helena); and finally, in Melkbosstrand (South Africa). Equiano landed in Lomé in March and arrived in Nigeria at the end of April. The project is part of Google’s $1 billion investment in Africa’s internet connectivity, which it announced in October 2021.

According to Mokoena, Equiano will increase international bandwidth capacity, which, in turn, will increase average internet speeds, making connectivity more affordable. The cable is configured to carry approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve this region. But he doesn’t do it alone. “We have worked with established local partners and experts to ensure that Equiano will be able to improve the reliability of global communications and the free flow of data. We expect to complete the project around July, when Equiano lands in Cape Town,” Mokoena continues.

Equiano will be the first submarine cable in the world to integrate optical switching at the fiber pair level. This management approach at the fiber pair level represents a paradigm shift in the industry.

Alistair Mokoena, Google

And it’s not just about connectivity. Research from a 2021 study by Africa Practice predicts that Equiano will drive job creation and real GDP growth relative to what GDP would have been without cable. The research suggests that Equiano will create up to 180,000 jobs in South Africa and boost the local economy to the tune of $7 billion.

Landing of Africa’s newest submarine cable

Leveraging over 30 years of experience in the submarine cable industry, Openserve, a Telkom Group brand, is Google’s landing partner for the Equiano submarine cable in South Africa. According to Openserve commercial director Phila Dube, it will offer Google cable landing facilities at Melkbosstrand, as well as terrestrial services connecting to neutral South African data centers. Not only does this partnership dramatically increase connectivity between South Africa, West Africa and Europe, but it also enables Openserve to provide greater diversity in existing international submarine routes and improves its land capabilities across South Africa.

Unpacking how the submarine cable works, Dube explains that Equiano provides submarine fiber pairs to participating parties. Each pair of fibers can carry approximately 16 Tbit/s of traffic. The various SA parties investing in the cable will then connect to this fiber pair at the Melkbosstrand cable landing station. These parties must either provide the connection themselves or lease from another party in order to provide the backhaul to the main data centers in Cape Town, he continues. A co-location facility has been purpose-built and is available in the Melkbosstrand exchange building to house any Equiano investor backhaul network equipment. At the foreign terminal in Portugal, each investor will need to procure dark fiber between the cable station in Lisbon and the Equinix data center in Lisbon where the capacity will be transferred.

What makes Equiano somewhat unusual, says Mokoena, is that the cable leverages optical switching at the fiber pair level, as opposed to the traditional approach of switching at the wavelength level. Optical switches allow optical signals to be branched or rerouted along a desired communication path without having to convert the signal, so that it is possible to transmit signals without compromising the advantages of high-speed optical communications.

This approach made sense to Google because it means greater flexibility; allowing it to add and reallocate capacity to different locations as needed, he notes. “Equiano will be the first submarine cable in the world to integrate optical switching at the fiber pair level. This management approach at the fiber pair level represents a paradigm shift in the industry.

Naturally, some challenges are to be expected when working on a project of this magnitude, Mokoena continues. One of them includes the role played by the weather, which can sometimes cause a delay in completing tasks within the agreed time frame. “Bringing affordable and abundant connectivity to people everywhere is an incredibly stubborn problem to solve and we won’t give up trying,” he said, adding that Google is committed to sharing what it’s learned and wants to help creative innovators find themselves – whether they are telecom operators, mobile network operators, cities, countries, governments, NGOs or technology companies. Not only will Equiano provide South Africa with additional international capacity – allowing more people to access the internet at lower cost – but it will also encourage more companies to digitize their operations and increase their capacities, creating new sources of revenue and boosting the economy in the process, concludes Dube, confirming that the Openserve cable landing facilities are all set for Equiano’s arrival. We just have to wait.

* This feature was first published in ITWeb’s June edition genius idea magazine.

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