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How subsea cables are building a more connected Africa

12 Mar 2021
Image-Nick Gliddon

Nick Gliddon

Director, Vodafone Carrier Services

Imagine life without the internet. Hard, isn’t it?

In modern society, we’ve become reliant on it for almost everything we do. From work and education to shopping and entertainment. We even use it to keep in touch with loved ones.

Yet 3.7 billion people in the world have no access to the internet and fewer than 1 in 5 people in the least developed countries are connected.1

This needs to change and we’re working hard, together with our customers and partners, to help society connect for a better future.

Improving connectivity in Africa

When we think about the internet, we usually think of Wi-Fi and 5G, but it’s actually mostly powered by a vast network of undersea cables.

In May 2020, we announced our investment into the 2Africa submarine cable system, called SHARP. One of the largest global connectivity projects in recent times, it will increase internet access across Africa, as well as improve the quality of online access for local business and communities.

Towards the end of last year, the 2Africa cable reached the design freeze phase on all sections which means the system options (branches and number of fibre pairs) were finalised. This was an important milestone in the project marking the start of the cable manufacture.

A number of subsea cable surveys are now underway and capacity is being planned with local partners.

A new, digital hub in Italy

As part of the next phase of the project, we’ve partnered with Equinix to build a new subsea cable interconnection hub for 2Africa in Genoa, Italy.

The new Genoa data centre, GN1, will extend access to new markets in Africa, Europe and the Middle East, considerably increasing the connectivity capabilities between these key regions of growth.

Opening up direct links between Spain and Portugal with Italy, the Mediterranean part of the system will avoid fiber bottlenecks that naturally occur between France and Spain, supporting healthy internet ecosystem development and allowing Milan to flourish as a data hub. Greatly improving accessibility for businesses and consumers alike.

By providing direct access to the African market, businesses can also expand their services across multiple continents, opening up new possibilities for industries such as energy and utilities, financial services and the connected car, smart transport sectors.

As more and more people get connected, and 4G and 5G services are deployed in Africa, there will be greater access to the public internet too and sectors such as healthcare and education will improve, building a more inclusive, global digital society.

People at the heart

The people we’re helping are at the heart of this project but it’s the skilled and passionate people behind it that make it so special.

Our part of the 2Africa cable is called SHARP in honour of Vodafone’s longest serving employee, Rick Perry, and acknowledges the huge role he played in bringing this cable project and many others to fruition.

As I write this on International Women’s Day, I wanted to highlight another member of our talented team, Maja Summers.

As one of the Senior Commercial Leads at Vodafone for 2Africa, Maja has been instrumental in bringing this cable to life and she has recently gained significant recognition industry-wide by being named the ‘Best Woman in Subsea’ at the 2020 Global Women in Telco & Tech Awards. A ceremony that celebrates the accomplishments of women in the telecoms and technology space.

In addition, Maja has been asked to be the Programme Chair for global event SubOptic. The longest running conference in the world for the submarine cable industry, it is yet another sign of how well respected she has become in the industry.

Bridging the digital divide

The huge rise in digital communications, accelerated by an extended global lockdown, has reinforced the importance of bringing global connectivity to all of society so that everyone has the same access to critical information and services.

At Vodafone, our Carrier Services team are advocates in the tech for good movement, which looks at using and developing technology that can make people’s lives better. Promoting collaboration in the global telecoms industry, their aim is to co-create solutions that ignite experiences and propel growth. 2Africa is a great example of this.

Find out how Vodafone Carrier Services can support your business or discover more about the work we do in Africa.

1https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-digital-divide-internet-data-broadband-mobbile/

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