Google confident that its submarine Internet cable will be launched this year

Silicon Valley’s big tech companies tend to focus most of their business attention on the US and Europe, where they make the most money. But they are also increasingly setting their sights on Africa. amazon is building a Prime Video team to develop original Nigerian movies and series, while Microsoft has opened multi-million dollar offices for its African engineering teams in Kenya Y Nigeria.

But underwater internet Meta and Google cable projects it could be the peak of Silicon Valley’s current package of Africa-focused investments. In the case of Google, the cable that comes from Portugal has landed in Togo and Nigeria, and will go to Saint Helena, Namibia and South Africa. It is expected to be online before the end of this year.

Juliet Ehimuan, Google’s director for West Africa, who has been at the forefront of the company’s ‘Equiano’ Internet cable-laying process in Africa, explained to Quartz what the company hopes to gain from the project. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Quartz: What was different about landing Equiano in Nigeria versus Togo?

Juliet Ehimuan: We need a landing partner in each country to land the cable. for Togolese, Woezon Square it was our landing partner. In Nigeria, he was WIOCC (Western Indian Ocean Cable Company). That is one difference: the landing partner is unique based on each location and each one has an operating license from the respective country.

But the overall goal is the same. Our goal is to provide additional capacity to drive Internet growth and support future demand. We are seeing this demand in the consumption of our own services, which will also be built on this infrastructure. Our research (pdf) showed that this project could improve Internet speeds by six times and reduce retail Internet data prices for consumers by more than 20%, and that’s significant.

Quartz: How do you convince governments that this cable is good for them?

Ehimuan: The goals are the same but of course the order of magnitude is different, just depending on the size of the population of each country and therefore the opportunity. It is important to show the benefit to the economy in general and how it aligns with your schedule.

In Togo, the Minister of Communications and Digital Transformation, Cina Lawson, and the President saw Equiano as an integral part of advancing their mission around digital growth and transformation. In Nigeria, we have had the support of the communications industry regulator and relevant ministries to partner with WIOCC. Nigeria has a digital strategy and the benefits we expect from Equiano are aligned with the policy.

Quartz: Still in partnership, the Lagos state government has been digging up the ground and laying ducts for fiber optic cables around the metropolis. Did Google have any direct engagements with them about how Equiano could tie into their fiber project?

Ehimuan: A few years ago we were part of the broadband committee that created Nigeria Broadband Plan. There have been different iterations of that since, but it laid out clearly some of the challenges affecting infrastructure deployment and the last mile: high cost of right of way, double taxation from the federal and state governments, cable cuts.

The latter is what Lagos is addressing by creating pipelines. Cables are damaged during events such as road construction and the cost of repairing cables is high. Conduit creates a more structured and secure way to run cables.

Quartz: So what’s in it for Google?

Ehimuan: Our business is online. Our products and services are digital. For people to access them, they need connectivity. However, our internal philosophy is to be customer-centric and everything else will follow. So we are investing ahead of financial returns. Instead of waiting until sometime in the future when the market is fully ready and vibrant, let’s be part of the market construction. If the Internet grows, many organizations, including Google, will benefit.

That’s why our strategy over the last 10 years has been to commit to several pillars that can help accelerate digital adoption. That includes infrastructure projects like Equiano, but also partnering with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and telcos to lower the costs of devices and data packets. It is all that can ensure a virile digital community.

Quartz: Just to be clear, does Google have a financial interest in making cable work in Nigeria?

Ehimuan: I certainly hope so! It means that we are taking the region seriously. That it is a region that has talent, potential and opportunity. And that this is a place where you can do business. It’s not a charity case where we feel sorry for people. As a Nigerian, I prefer the first narration. But we want to do business responsibly to make life better.

Quartz: Correct. Google has been in Nigeria for over a decade. Is Equiano the most important of your investments here?

Ehimuan: If you try to think about what it takes to update Google Maps, do you use Google Maps?

Quartz: My life is based on Google, so yes.

Ehimuan: Yes, people use Google Maps for traffic information and it’s accurate for the most part. Now imagine what it takes to put the cartographic information of just Lagos online, to get traffic information in real time, to get Street View using real photographs. That’s a great investment, but we don’t necessarily advertise it, as long as it works. We’ve had all kinds of initiatives including training, startup grants, and non-profit support.

Quartz: Where do Google Developer Groups on college campuses fit into your strategy?

Ehimuan: If you think about the different parts needed to have a manly digital landscape, you need developers who can create great apps that solve local problems. Therefore, it is important to invest in early developer training; we are whetting the appetite among young people to embrace technology and create opportunity.

Quartz: About Equiano, what will be the business relationship between Google, WIOCC and internet service providers in Nigeria?

Ehimuan: This cable has 20 times more capacity than previous cables, but I want to give credit to previous projects because every investment is helpful in getting us here and where we want to go. so i recognize majorWACS (West African cable system) and so. The intention with Equiano is to be able to partner with internet service providers to pass on the additional bandwidth and make it available to users.

Quartz: And the ISPs will pay for this, yes?

Ehimuan: Those details will be managed by WIOCC.

Quartz: It’s okay. What needs to be done to maximize the value of Equiano?

Ehimuan: It would be the same set of things that apply generally to ease of operations, some of which I already mentioned: double taxation, right-of-way fees, all the factors that would make it easier to run a business.

Quartz: Is there a universe where Equiano doesn’t keep his promise?

Ehimuan: It would be difficult for me to see that because there are investments committed to the project. The cable is on track to come to light before the end of this year. A lot of work has gone into making sure we meet this timeline. I am 100% sure it will go live. That is part of the equation.

The other part is that for the end user to experience the benefits, they need to get that capability. That’s why there are talks about associations. WIOCC announced an agreement with Telecommunications Phase 3 (a network transmission company) on the day we announced the cable landing in Nigeria.

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