China Mobile, Facebook, MTN, Orange, Vodafone, and WIOCC recently announced they had established a consortium to roll out and run an undersea fibre cable called 2Africa.
With many of these companies holding stakes in the West Africa Cable System (WACS) and the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), this raises the question: Is 2Africa an upgrade of these existing cable systems or an entirely new cable?
MTN and WIOCC have confirmed to MyBroadband that the 2Africa cable will be a completely new undersea cable system connecting Africa to Europe and the Middle East.
The cable has been designed to deliver improved resilience, as well as extra capacity, the companies stated.
“Additionally, it will be the first cable to extend connectivity the length of both the Eastern and Western seaboards of the African continent.”
The cable will be a total length of 37,000km with 21 landing stations in 16 countries in Africa.
West coast cables WACS and SAT-3 have experienced multiple breaks in recent months related to undersea disturbances, and in at least one instance the WACS cable became trapped under heavy sediment due to turbulence in an underwater canyon.
The consortium said that to increase the reliability of 2Africa, it will increase its cable burial depth by 50% compared to older systems. Its cable routing will also avoid locations of known subsea disturbance.
With the addition of another undersea Internet cable for Africa, there are also questions about whether the current complement of cable-laying and cable-repair vessels around Africa is enough to ensure a speedy response when issues arise.
Alcatel Submarine Networks has been appointed to build 2Africa, and WIOCC told MyBroadband that at this stage, the company does not plan to commission a new ship to deploy the cable.
180Tbps maximum design capacity
It was also announced that 2Africa will use a new technology called Spatial Division Multiplexing (SDM).
This will allow the cable to support up to 16 fibre pairs, where previous technologies used in the existing cables connecting Africa to the world only supported eight fibre pairs.
As a result, the 2Africa cable will have a design capacity of up to 180Tbps – more than the total combined capacity of all subsea cables serving Africa today.
However, none of the existing cables around Africa actually used the full eight fibre pairs available to them. Cables such as WACS, EASSy, and SEACOM all have two or four fibre pairs.
When asked whether 2Africa would make full use of the ability of SDM to support 16 fibre pairs, MTN and WIOCC provided the following feedback:
“The new SDM technology being implemented on the 2Africa cable allows deployment of up to 16 fibre pairs; however, this is a maximum number. The actual fibre pair count on specific network segments will be determined by partners’ requirements.”