A lot has changed since the internet was invented back in 1960. In its earliest days, the internet was used by the US Defense Department to ensure armed forces could communicate during the Cold War. I’m no computer expert, but research shows that the computers used to connect the nascent network were big enough to fill up an entire room and consisted of a series of flashing buttons, and toggle switches.
Under the sea
Today, 98% of international internet traffic is ferried around the world by subsea cables. Our ability to Facetime, book a holiday online or find an address on Google Maps is made possible by an underwater network of cables (also called subsea cables) that crisscross the ocean. These cables carry telecommunication signals across the continents of the world and connect countries to international internet exchanges, which helps users access the internet at high speeds.
As the ways we work, travel and connect evolve to become increasingly digital, reliable connectivity is more important than ever before. I previously covered the World Data Lab’s Internet Poverty index to give some insight into the need for further investment in internet infrastructure. The lowdown was that with 58.3% of its population being internet poor, sub-Saharan Africa is the most underserved region in terms of internet infrastructure. In Nigeria, nearly half of the country’s population lives in internet poverty. Existing infrastructure is unequally distributed, which leaves a vast proportion of the continent’s population without internet access that is affordable, reliable, and of good quality.
That’s what makes Equiano, Google’s subsea internet cable that will run from Portugal to South Africa along the Atlantic Coast of Africa so exciting. The investment was first announced in 2019, and is Google’s 14th investment in internet subsea cables but the first one to be dedicated to internet access in Africa. The initial configuration of the cable system will include landings in Lagos and Capetown, with branching units in place for further phases of the project.