BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

Google’s subsea cable targets heart of Nigeria’s internet market

After operating in Nigeria for over ten years, Google is now going for the heart of the country’s internet market with its subsea cable which is expected to land in Lagos in April.

Nigeria’s internet market rides on digital infrastructure built by InfraCos (infrastructure companies) or telecommunication companies. While mobile broadband infrastructure dominates the market, fibre optics cable investments have also not been lacking. There are currently 5 active subsea cables powered by local investors with over 40 terabytes per second (Tbps) of capacity on the shores of the country.

The Equiano will be the first foreign-backed subsea cable to land in Nigeria and boasts 20 times the capacity of existing subsea cables at 144Tbps. The cable, according to Google and its landing partner WIOCC, begins in Portugal in western Europe, run more than 12,000km along the West Coast of Africa and initially land in Lome, Togo; Lagos, Nigeria; Swakopmund, Namibia; Rupert’s Bay, Saint Helena and Melkbosstrand, South Africa; establishing a new high-capacity connection between the African continent and Europe.

While Google has its sights on the larger African market where internet access is still considered a preserve of a minority according to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the cable’s impact on Africa’s largest economy will be significant.

Digital infrastructure in Nigeria is still very poor and where they exist, consumers do not enjoy high-speed internet due to the prevalence of mobile broadband. Mobile broadband penetration is at 40 percent below the global average rate of 56 percent.

Many experts including global institutions such as the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, believe that emerging technologies like 5G, internet of things, robotics, and artificial intelligence will be efficiently powered by high-speed internet which requires investments in infrastructure like fibre optic cables. Those who control these infrastructure own a big slice of the heart of the internet.

The Equiano cable, when it is deployed for commercial use around September 2022, is expected to increase internet speeds by a factor of six, reduce internet retail prices by 21 percent, and increase internet penetration by six percentage points. It is projected that these increases will boost the GDP of the country by N10.1 billion by 2025 and create 1.6 million jobs by 2025.

Read also: Nigerian telcos see internet speed decline in first quarter of 2022

“The Equiano cable will deliver improved internet quality, speeds and affordability to the people of Nigeria. However, for the benefits to be fully felt throughout Nigeria, hyperscale connectivity needs to be extended from the Lagos area to the rest of the country,” said Chris Wood, Chief Executive Officer of WIOCC.

To achieve its goals, WIOCC will deploy a comprehensive, hyperscale national fibre network which will go live in phases, starting in June and continuing through to the end of the year.

“When combined with the Equiano cable this network will deliver transformational benefits across the country,” Wood said.

Since it opened its Nigerian office in 2012, Google has played an active role in digital literacy in the country with the aim of deepening patronage of its products and services in the country. Experts say the expansion into digital infrastructure is in the character of the company and its big ambitions for the markets it operates in. Also, unlike other tech companies operating on the continent, they do not want to rely on telcos for connectivity which has hardly improved in years. The big tech companies want to run their end-to-end connections and even have excess capacity for expansion.

“Initially, Google was trying to sell to Africa, I think now, they want to build and sell from Africa. There is a massive difference. Infrastructure and knowledge will be pulled in to make it cost effective,” Victor Asemota, Growth Partner at AnD Ventures.

“They will still build for Africa, no doubt. The problem is that Africa has to be at Google scale for it to be worthwhile. Google scale is targeting a billion customers. We are only slightly more than a billion people and very fragmented. It will be about building for the world,” Asemota said.

Google says it plans to spend $500 million in Africa in the next three years. A good portion of that money is expected to come to Nigeria, said Juliet Ehimuan, Director, West Africa at Google.

“Equiano is set to make an enduring contribution towards the development of Nigeria;s communications infrastructure and today marks another major step in its development. We look forward to honoring our commitment to be part of Africa’s digital transformation,” Ehimuan said.

While Google is working with many partners, the subsea cable will land in the new data centre being constructed by WIOCC. The Open Access Data Centre is being planned in phases and when completed will be the largest data centre outside South Africa. The first phase will be ready for clients in Q2 2022, and when fully operational, this US$150 million, Tier III certified data centre will support up to 20MW site power load across more than 7,200 square metres of white space – sufficient for up to 3,275 racks.

“The flexibility of our data centre design approach enables us to expand capacity quickly, and the site power load at OADC Lagos will be fully scalable to 40MW as market demand grows. Our Lagos facility is part of our first phase of data centre construction. Over the next five years, we are committing US$500m of investment into data centre deployment in Africa to support growing demand from cloud providers and the wholesale community for a partner offering the highest levels of flexibility, responsiveness and scalability in supporting their expansion initiatives in Africa,” WIOCC noted on its website.

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