The United States government and several US-based internet companies are making a concerted push in South Africa’s online space, including spending billions of dollars on new infrastructure.
In October, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai announced a $1 billion (R15.7 billion) investment to provide affordable internet access and support entrepreneurs and nonprofits in Africa over the next five years.
This includes the new subsea Equiano cable linking Africa and Europe, which Google has boasted will triple internet speeds in the country.
Equiano will start in western Europe and run along the West Coast of Africa, between Portugal and South Africa, with branching units along the way that can be used to extend connectivity to additional African countries.
“Equiano will provide approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve South Africa,” said Google Africa managing director Nitin Gajria. “This will lead to a 21% drop in internet prices as well as five-fold internet speed and almost triple in South Africa.”
Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has partnered with MTN, Orange, Vodafone, China Mobile, and the West Indian Ocean Cable Company to build one of the world’s largest undersea internet cable networks.
At 37,000km long, 2Africa will be one of the world’s largest subsea cable projects and will interconnect Europe, the Middle East, and 21 landings in 16 countries in Africa.
The system is expected to go live in 2023/24, and with a design capacity of up to 180Tbps, it has more than the total combined capacity of all subsea cables serving Africa today.
In countries where the 2Africa cable will land, service providers will obtain capacity in carrier-neutral data centres or open-access cable landing stations on a fair and equitable basis.
This, 2Africa said, will support healthy Internet ecosystem development by facilitating improved accessibility for businesses and consumers.
Starlink, the satellite internet arm of the American aerospace company SpaceX, has also committed to launching its services in South Africa.
Starlink uses a constellation of low-earth-orbit satellites to beam Internet to users on the ground via satellite dish.
The service is currently live for beta testing in several locations, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Germany.
MyBroadband reported that the service is expected to launch in South Africa in 2023.
The US government has also made a clear commitment to developing internet infrastructure in South Africa and the rest of the continent through its own investments.
In 2020, the US International Development Finance Corporation invested $300 million in new data centres that will support information and communications technology development in South Africa, Kenya and new African markets.
In September, Liquid Intelligent Technologies announced the opening of its fifth mega data centre in South Africa. Loans from the DFC, the United Kingdom and the World Bank supported the development of the centres.