Google and Facebook’s undersea cables great news for South Africa — Here’s why

Google’s Equiano and Facebook’s 2Africa submarine cables will likely not increase home fibre speeds or substantially affect prices. Still, they will help bring content from platforms like YouTube and Instagram closer to end-users.

From the perspective of major data centre providers in South Africa, these submarine cable projects will bring multiple benefits.

Africa Data Centres sales director Paul Schönborn told MyBroadband that Google and Facebook’s undersea cable projects “will result in a reduction in the cost of international connectivity rates for interconnected data centre networking.”

Data Centre Interconnection (DCI) is when two or more data centres are interlinked.

DCI lets different data centres share data, improving the end user’s experience by reducing latency and shifting the cost of international bandwidth from Internet service providers to content distributors like Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon.

An added benefit of DCI is the redundancy it provides — if one data centre fails, the companies and services depending on it can function from backups at another data centre.

Internet giants like Google and Facebook are dependent on DCI for their day-to-day operations.

DCI is made possible by distributed Internet exchange points (IXPs) — physical infrastructure that network operators, content delivery networks, and cloud service providers use to exchange web traffic.

This exchange of web traffic is called peering, and it is essential for low-cost Internet services since companies don’t have to pay a third party to transport their web traffic.

Teraco’s NAPAfrica is Africa’s largest IXP and offers free peering services to all its clients.

Cybersmart CTO Laurie Fialkov told MyBroadband that Equiano is critical for Google’s international capacity link at its Johannesburg peering point since it is currently at capacity.

“Their current overseas transit is at capacity, so Google peering in Johannesburg is not working properly,” said Fialkov.

Laurie Fialkov
Laurie Fialkov, Cybersmart CTO

This caused YouTube to perform poorly for many home fibre broadband subscribers earlier in the year, he explained.

In late March this year, MyBroadband forum users reported YouTube streaming problems, which Google engineers confirmed was due to capacity constraints in its Johannesburg cluster.

The issue appears to have been resolved for the moment.

South Africa has a glut of international bandwidth available on cable systems such as Seacom, WACS, EASSy, and SACS.

However, Google might prefer not to buy extra capacity from existing providers as these tend to be long-term contracts.

Instead, it hopes to complete Equiano in late 2022, bringing a massive amount of international capacity online that Google can use to transport content to South Africa.

An additional benefit of the undersea cable projects is that they would boost business for local data centre operators.

“Colocation demand will increase for data centre providers from companies wanting to be ‘closer’ to the network providers,” said Schönborn.

“The increase of demand for colocation services will be a result of [the undersea cable projects] attracting international cloud, OTT and hyperscale companies who consider deploying their services within data centres in South Africa.”

“On another note, it will also improve network redundancy between data centres, thereby improving service level agreements on connectivity,” he said.

Therefore, even if multiple submarine cables should get critically damaged, like what happened with the WACS and SAT-3 break in 2020, it would not as severely disrupt international Internet traffic.

In other words, data centres could promise greater uptime to their clients.

Now read: Fibre war in South Africa — with prices dropping below R400

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Google and Facebook’s undersea cables great news for South Africa — Here’s why