MTN Group, Africa’s biggest mobile-phone operator, plans to build a R6.09 billion ($320 million) inland fibre cable to connect ten countries as telecommunications companies push to expand service to the continent’s growing population.
The Johannesburg-based firm, through its MTN GlobalConnect unit and the Africa50 infrastructure investment agency, will start building the East2West link in the fourth quarter, MTN said in a statement.
The project will add about 20,000 kilometres (12,400 miles) of new cable and interconnect over 100,000 kilometres of fibre, it said.
For MTN, the deal follows its recent venture to build a sub-sea cable that landed in South Africa’s Cape Town late last year as part of a push to connect African countries to Europe and the Middle East.
While the undersea lines bring fast broadband to coastal cities, inland cables are needed to further connect land-locked countries. Wireless carriers in Africa are increasingly investing in infrastructure as they seek to make money from services offered on their networks.
MTN is in the process of carving out its infrastructure wholesale firm GlobalConnect, which is being re-branded as Bayobab and plans to roll out a total of 135,000 kilometres of fibre by 2025, generating as much as $1 billion in revenue.
Africa needs at least 500,000 more kilometres of fibre optic cables, according to MTN. Wireless carriers and US tech giants, including Alphabet’s Google and Meta Platform’s Facebook, are also heavily investing in efforts to provide better connections to the continent’s young, fast-growing and tech-savvy population.
The new MTN pipes will be constructed in three phases and run through countries including Kenya, Nigeria and Congo. The fibre will significantly speed up services such as video streaming and cloud computing once complete, with the last stage expected to be ready in 2025.