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US tech giant Facebook alongside partners that include MTN and Vodacom parent Vodafone, has unveiled plans to extend its 2Africa undersea communications cable to the longest in world, a move that would connect billions more people to the internet. 

On Tuesday, the 2Africa consortium, which also counts China Mobile International, France’s Orange and Telecom Egypt announced the addition of a new segment — the 2Africa Pearls branch — extending to the Arabian Gulf, India and Pakistan.

The consortium says this extension will bring the total length of the 2Africa cable system to more than 45,000km, making it “the longest subsea cable system ever deployed”.

2Africa will now connect three continents: Africa, Europe and Asia terrestrially through Egypt, by adding landing locations in Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia. 

The new branches join the recently announced extension to the Canary Islands, Seychelles, Comoros Islands, Angola and southeast Nigeria.

The consortium says 2Africa will deliver a faster, more reliable internet service to each country. “To further support a burgeoning global digital economy, the expanded system will serve an even wider range of communities that rely on the internet for services from education to health care and businesses, providing economic and social benefits that come from increased connectivity.”

Overall, the group says its undersea cable system will have capacity to connect up to 3-billion, up from the initially planned 1.2-billion. Subsea cables are the cornerstone of the internet, carrying virtually all of the world’s data traffic.   

The actual build will be done by Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), which has been selected to deploy the new branches. 

Facebook has invested in the 2Africa cable system, which it says is one of the largest sub-sea cable projects in the world, for a number of years. It will eventually circle the African continent.

Using an open-access model, capacity from the cable will be available to service providers at carrier-neutral data centres or open-access cable landing stations “on a fair and equitable basis, encouraging and supporting the development of a healthy internet ecosystem”.

Launched in May 2020, 2Africa is still in the planning and development phase, with building expected to start in 2022 and go live in 2023. ASN is said to have started manufacturing some of the components and sections of the build at its factories in Calais and Greenwich.  

In addition to MTN and Vodacom’s parent, local players such as Seacom, Telkom and Liquid Telecom also have large investments in undersea cable systems. 



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