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Google and Facebook are circling Africa with huge undersea cables to get millions online

The rapid growth in internet usage despite high cost of access and the expected population boom in Africa—already the youngest continent by age of its population—jointly represent a significant opportunity for some of the world’s largest tech firms who are betting big on facilitating internet infrastructure and, by extension, ensuring hundreds of millions of potential customers get online to use their services.

With internet penetration rates on the continent estimated at an average of 24%, it remains the only continent where over half the total population is without internet access. Yet, that stat represents some significant improvement given internet connections stood at 2.1% in 2005. In fact, Africa recorded the highest growth in internet use globally between 2005 and 2018, resulting in a significant global internet usage milestone.

Two of the world’s largest tech companies are setting about making sure that growth continues.

Facebook is reportedly working on plans for “Simba” (named after the Lion King cartoon character), an underwater cable that will circle the continent with landings on multiple coasts. It’s similar to undersea cable projects the social media giant has undertaken in Europe and Asia. It’s unclear whether or not Facebook will partner with African telecoms operators, especially for funding.

Google’s underwater cable plans are much further along. It has confirmed construction plans for a cable connecting Portugal and South Africa with the first phase due to be completed by 2021. The new cable, named Equiano (after 18th century Nigerian writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano), will have 20 times the capacity of the most recent projects laid in the region and will first branch out in Nigeria—Africa’s largest internet market. The project will be fully funded by Google.