Google has announced the launch of Equiano, a state of the art submarine Internet cable, which is set to land in Lagos, Nigeria.
Google, alongside one of its major partners, West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC), made this known today at a virtual launch event. Per reports from both companies, the cable is scheduled to land on Friday, April 29, 2022.
The Internet cable, named after Olaudah Equiano, a historical abolitionist, has a capacity of 144 terabits (18 Terabytes). Per the tech giant, it will be introducing 20 times more power and higher levels of durability than the last cable built to serve the West African region.
If you’re wondering, submarine Internet cables are one of the primary reasons you can seamlessly read this article, stream content on YouTube and Netflix, and upload content to WhatsApp and Instagram. A full explanation of how this works will probably require a short course, but don’t worry. This piece and some of our upcoming articles should help it make sense.
Think back to 2003. Very few people had phones and computers, and accessing the Internet required buying time in cybercafes and making the most of it (coughs in overnight browsing). Even when phones became increasingly available, you would likely waste precious time loading a page with several pictures or trying to stream a video.
As more entrepreneurs increased their interest in Africa, technology began to improve. One of the landmark moments was in 2009, during the launch of the MainOne submarine cable, a private submarine cable that today spans Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire.
Subsequently, companies like Glo and MTN launched their submarine cables in Nigeria.
As we explained in this piece, you can certainly draw parallels between these submarine cable launches and increased Internet speeds in Nigeria. With increased Internet speeds came the explosion of technology-enabled businesses, which, in turn, led to increased funding and job creation. See where we’re going with this?
However, Internet speeds in Nigeria, nay Africa, pale in comparison to other developed countries. When you look at the cost of purchasing data relative to the average income in Nigeria, you’ll realise that there’s still much work to be done.
Google’s submarine cable could change Nigeria’s Internet experience
Depending on your location, your current mobile download speed could be a little higher or lower than 18.7 Mbps. If you don’t live in an urban area, it’s likely to be much slower.
Interestingly, if we believe Google’s claim, Equiano could bring 6x much faster Internet, leaving you above or below 112 Mbps. A considerable leap when you consider several factors.
If you currently have a download speed of 18.7 Mbps, it will take you over 7 minutes to download a 1GB file. All things being equal, Google’s Internet cable could help drop that download time to 1.2 minutes.
Another major win could lie in the speed and efficiency of your financial transactions. You’d experience less time waiting for your mobile banking app to load and, hopefully, less waiting time for credit and debit alerts.
Also, two out of four Nigerian telecom companies currently offer 1GB of mobile data at ₦666, but all things being equal, this could drop to ₦140.
These numbers alone may not do justice to this cable’s possible benefits. Juliet Ehimuan, Director, West Africa at Google, believes we’ll see the ripple effects in other sectors of the economy.
Per Ehimuan, that means a $10.1 billion increase in Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 1.6 million indirect jobs.
“Look at the activities going on in Nigeria right now, even with the challenges of data costs, and Internet speeds, now imagine a situation where data prices come down by a factor of 20, and you have 6x the speed you have right now. People are going to be able to do more things, Ehimuan said in an exclusive interview with Techpoint Africa.
She points to the growing number of African content creators on YouTube and how this could help them monetise their content by attracting a global audience.
“We’ve also been talking about diversifying the economy, and technology provides an important way to do that where we’re exporting creative content and getting foreign investment. Imagine the additional income and commercial success that we could have from 1.6 million jobs,” Ehimuan said.
These benefits seem impressive, but you’re probably asking yourself how they can be implemented?
How can Google fulfil its mission?
Submarine cables have immense potential benefits, but we’ll not see them if suitable measures are not in place to leverage their capabilities. As subsea cables arrive on the coast, terrestrial cables help to get the Internet capacity to our homes and offices.
There’s a vast submarine cable capacity in Africa that still doesn’t reflect on your download speeds or streaming quality.
As of 2020, Africa had a submarine cable capacity of 100 Tbps, but it was only using 10%. Estimates from industry insiders we spoke to have us believe that this has increased to 30%.
In a nutshell, Google’s promise of faster and cheaper Internet in three years will only happen if the right parameters are in place.
Ehimuan hinted that Google would need the help of several stakeholders to help get this cable capacity to the people and businesses that need it.
“There are issues around right-of-way, double taxation at the federal and state level, cable cuts due to construction, power, and vandalism. That’s why multiple stakeholders have to play a role in infrastructure expansion. There’s a role for the government to play and a role for the private sector.”
Google’s partnership with WIOCC points to some exciting developments on the private sector level.
WIOCC is building a Tier 111 data centre (Open Access Data Centre) in Lekki, Lagos — another major infrastructure that amplifies all the benefits of a submarine cable we listed earlier.
The Equiano cable will be connected to that data centre, from where the company plans to spread capacity across the nation.
Chris Wood, WIOCC CEO, revealed that Equiano’s open-access technology makes it easier for any telecom service provider to spread this capacity across the country.
The company has partnered with Phase3 Telecom and Western Telecommunications to aid capacity expansion across Nigeria.
“Phase3 has an extensive cable network in Nigeria, so it would be critical to our expansion to cities outside of Lagos. Western Telecommunications would help us spread our presence across Lagos through their fibre ducts,” he said.
Recall that in 2020, the Lagos State Government introduced a dig-once policy and Western Telecommunications was one of the companies to win the contract.
You see, laying fibre cables around cities is quite cumbersome. If MTN digs today, Airtel might have to dig tomorrow and could accidentally cut MTN’s cable. Lagos’ dig-once policy creates a scenario where one company digs and other companies tap into that network.
Wood and Ehimuan agree that this launch helps shore up infrastructure for the future.
“More data will be generated in the next three years than has been created in the last thirty years,” Wood avered.
Per Ehimuan, an enabling business environment would go a long way in helping Nigeria realise its obvious potential and fully leverage its growing technology space.
Stay tuned for our commentary on Airtel and MainOne’s data centres and Lagos’ rise into a technology hub If you’re curious. Meanwhile, we can only hope for the best following Equiano’s launch.