Technological innovation at the heart of future submarine cable 2Africa

To deliver “more than the total combined capacity of all subsea cables serving Africa today”. That is the ambition of the eight partners, of which Orange is one, who are united in this innovative project to build a submarine cable around the African continent.

“The aim of this new submarine cable: to speed up Africa’s digital transformation”

With a length of 37,000 km, which will make it one of the longest in the world, future submarine cable 2Africa will link up Western Europe with the Middle East and 16 African countries as of 2023 or 2024, the date announced for it to go live.

With a nominal capacity of up to 180 Tbit/s on the system’s key elements, it should enable the improvement of connectivity in Africa and meet the increasing demand for capacity in the Middle East. It is also aimed at facilitating the deployment of 4G, 5G, and high-speed access for hundreds of millions of people.

The stakes are high: although the African continent has seen a sharp increase in the number of internet users, its internet penetration rate is still low in comparison with the rest of the world. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), only 24.4 % of Africans used the internet in 2018.

What’s more, disparities across the continent are huge between “over-connected” countries, such as Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco, and “under-connected” countries, such as Sudan, Somalia, the DRC and the Republic of the Congo.

Yet, as we know, access to the internet and digital technologies is strategic, as the digital transformation influences key areas such as the economy and public governance, which includes healthcare, education, banking and insurance, agriculture, etc.

Such is the aim of this new submarine cable: to speed up Africa’s digital transformation by becoming one of the main pillars of the expansion of internet on the continent, with the underlying development of new services (mobile financial services, digital tools for agriculture or digital public services for example) and new uses for public institutions, businesses, and private individuals.

High-level performance

In order to achieve this, the 2Africa project will benefit from the most advanced technologies as the aim is to provide the highest possible level of performance and availability.

The cable will thus integrate the new SDM1 technology (Spatial Division Multiplexing), designed by Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) to improve capacity whilst optimising costs. This will enable the deployment of a maximum of 16 fibre pairs where previous technologies only supported eight.

2Africa will also benefit from “optical switching” technology for flexible bandwidth management. Telecom Egypt is to provide a new link between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, with the option of an optical interconnection between East Africa and Europe.

This project includes two new landfall stations in Egypt, Ras Gharib and Port-Said, connected by two different land routes along which new generation fibre will be deployed.

Running parallel to the Suez Canal, these routes will be completed by a new submarine link establishing a third connection between Ras Gharib and Suez.

In the interests of fairness, service providers will receive capacity via neutral data centres – i.e. that do not belong to one single operator – or open-access landfall stations, this will contribute to a “healthy internet ecosystem” for both businesses and private individuals who will thus benefit from the best services at the best prices.

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