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Connecting a continent: how a new subsea cable project will help to build a better future for Africa

14 May 2020
Image-Nick Gliddon

Nick Gliddon

Director, Vodafone Carrier Services

The whole world needs access to online services to support growth and digitalisation. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how important connectivity is to keep the world connected whilst staying apart.

Currently, 39% of Africa is connected to the internet, lagging behind the global average of 59%1. Growing this figure is important, with the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development in 2019 estimating that a broadband expansion of 10% would yield a 2.5% increase in GDP per capita.

We also need to ensure there is enough internet capacity to not only get people online, but to help build a modern digital society that includes services that require a large amount of data transfer, such as cloud computing or video. This is crucial for people, local businesses and multinational companies looking to operate in Africa.

To help build this digital society Vodafone has continually invested in national fixed and mobile networks in our operating countries and with Vodacom and Safaricom. SHARP, our new international subsea network, will underpin this work and provide a foundation for future growth. It will power better and wider connectivity across the continent and provide a deeper connection to the rest of the world.

An engineering feat

SHARP is Vodafone’s investment into one of the world’s largest subsea cable projects, 2Africa, which involves a consortium of several partners. When it is completed between 2023 and 2024, high-speed fibre optic cables will circle the African continent, providing enough internet capacity for many years of growth.

Subsea cables carry the vast majority of the world’s inter-continental data, powering the internet. In comparison to other methods, subsea cables can carry much more data more quickly, at a much lower cost.

The cable will run along the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean and Red Seas, directly connecting 16 countries in Africa with Europe and the Middle East.

Medium colours map 2Africa
The 2Africa cable

Improving the online experience

Buried deeper than previous systems for greater protection against external damage, SHARP will be 37,000km long. In total, the 2Africa consortium will provide 16 fibre pairs (more than twice the number contained in most existing cables in this region) with the latest optical switching technology.

This means quicker internet speeds, better reliability and a massive increase on the capacity of today’s service – something needed in order to keep up with the continual growth in internet traffic as more and more people get connected and 4G and 5G services are deployed in Africa.

As a result, millions of people across the African continent will get access to the internet where they couldn’t before, while those with existing access will get a better online experience. This in turn will have a positive impact on communities, improve sectors such as healthcare and education, and build a more inclusive global digital society.

Why SHARP?

Global connectivity is at the heart of how we help society in a digital age, and our global network is one of our core assets. Whilst the technology we are investing in is impressive, it’s skilled and passionate people that drive transformational projects such as SHARP. That’s why we’re celebrating this milestone project by naming it in honour of Vodafone’s longest serving employee, Rick Perry.

Rick P

Starting his career in 1974, Rick has become incredibly well known and respected in the industry, and has helped to build the digital society that we know today. The first cable project he worked on was UK-France 3 in 1987, and since then he has led many cable projects to link different parts of the world. Naming our cables the “System Honouring the Achievements of Rick Perry” acknowledges the huge role Rick has played in bringing SHARP and many other cable projects to fruition.

Learn more about what our submarine capabilities, including SHARP, can do for your business.

1https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats1.htm

How submarine cables are laid – Vodafone Carrier Services

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