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Google announces Equiano

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Google has announced its fourteenth subsea cable investment, and the third international cable funded entirely by the internet giant.

Equiano, as the cable will be known, will have three touchpoints, starting in Portugal’s capital Lisbon and running down Africa’s west coast to connect with South Africa. This will be Google’s first cable stretching from Europe to Africa.

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Moreover, Google is building nine “branching units” into the system, which makes it more extensible so that it can connect in with other African countries at a later date. The company said that it expects to connect with Nigeria after South Africa.

Google has enlisted Alcatel Submarine Networks to build the cable, with phase one (Portugal to South Africa) expected to be completed some time in 2021. The company said that Equiano will be the first subsea cable to “incorporate optical switching at the fiber-pair level,” rather than the traditional approach of wavelength-level switching.

“This greatly simplifies the allocation of cable capacity, giving us the flexibility to add and reallocate it in different locations as needed,” the company wrote in a blog post. “And because Equiano is fully funded by Google, we’re able to expedite our construction timeline and optimize the number of negotiating parties.”

Moreover, Google claims that Equiano will offer roughly 20 times more network capacity compared to previously cables that serve the region, thanks to the space-division multiplexing (SDM) technology it’s based on.

Connectivity

Google’s parent company Alphabet, among other technology companies, has increasingly invested in internet infrastructure projects, spanning balloons, public Wi-Fi hotspots, and “last mile” initiatives that link cities’ broadband into long-distance fiber networks. Elsewhere, Amazon is planning a network of satellites for high-speed broadband, while Facebook is working on similar infrastructure projects — in fact, Facebook is reportedly in the early stages of planning an underwater cable that encircles the whole of Africa.

The goal for all these programs is the same: to enhance connectivity around the world and improve the companies’ bottom line. Google’s myriad services, which range from cloud computing and maps, to video-streaming and email, depend on reliable infrastructure, of which subsea cables play an important part in terms of increasing data transfer speeds and reducing latency.

Microsoft, which is also investing in underwater cable systems, recently became the first of the “big three” public cloud companies to open a datacenter in Africa, and Amazon’s AWS is due to open one soon. With the first phase of the Equiano expected to be completed within a couple of years, we can perhaps expect Google to announce its African datacenter plans in the not-too-distant future.

Named after Olaudah Equiano, a former writer, slave, and abolitionist born in Nigeria, Equiano is the latest in a long line of subsea cable investments made by Google dating back nearly a decade. Its first project was Unity, which stretches 9,620km from Chikura, Japan to Redondo Beach, California, and went into service in 2010 — it’s co-owned by a number of other well-known companies, including elstra, Singtel, KDDI, and Airtel (Bharti).

Google’s first fully privately funded cable went into service last year. Junior, as it’s known, runs just 390km from Rio de Janeiro to Santos in Brazil. And its first private funded intercontinental cable, Curie, was completed just a couple of months ago, running 10,000km from Los Angeles all the way down the Pacific coast to Valparaíso, Chile.

Google previously announced another fully self-owned international subsea cable, known as Dunant, running from Virginia Beach in the U.S. to Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez, France — this is expected to launch in late 2020.

There are currently more than 400 undersea cables in service around the world, amounting to some 1.1 million kilometers (700,000 miles) — and Google is directly invested in around 100,000 kilometers (62,000 miles) of these cables. That works out at around 10% of all subsea cables globally. Combined with its various other programs, spanning datacenters and quirky balloons that beam down internet from the skies, it’s clear that Google’s priority is getting everyone online using its services.

“Over the last three years, Google has invested $47 billion to improve our global infrastructure, and Equiano will further enhance the world’s highest capacity and best connected international network,” the company said.

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