The affect of subsea cables

A high quality internet connection gives people a voice, creates opportunities and strengthens the local and global economy. The need for widespread reliable internet connection and infrastructure is more evident today than ever as an increased reliance on remote working and online communication during the COVID-19 pandemic leads to a dramatic increase in global internet usage. And yet, after that 2020 Inclusive Internet IndexAlmost half of the world remains disconnected.

Submarine fiber optic cables or subsea cables are some of the key components that allow better connectivity, but are not known. They are important to the global Network infrastructure, Connecting countries, conducting communication and enabling trade and education. The importance of internet connectivity to economic growth is well known, but rigorous studies to quantify the impact are not available for many countries.

Our recently announced 2Africa cable, which we are developing with regional and global partners, is one of the largest submarine cable projects in the world. It will connect 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, delivering more than the combined capacity of all the submarine cables serving Africa today. With a length of 37,000 kilometers, 2Africa will almost correspond to the circumference of the earth and connect the continent from east to west for the first time. 2Africa will greatly improve internet capacity and connectivity at a time when broadband traffic is growing significantly worldwide. The growth in demand for broadband technology is being driven by trends in the global economy as high quality, reliable broadband is increasingly used in many industries to manufacture and sell goods and services.

RTI International, an independent not-for-profit research institute, estimates 2Africa’s impact is expected to increase by 0.42 to 0.58 percent of Africa’s GDP in the first two to three years after it goes live in 2023-20204th. This estimate is based on analysis using empirical data, market conditions and trends, and discussions with experts about the impact of broadband on the African economy. This impact equates to $ 26.4 billion to $ 36.9 billion in purchasing power parity (PPP), a measure that takes into account differences in living standards between countries. From the analysis of previous subsea cables, RTI anticipates an increase in employment (including high-skilled jobs), higher efficiency and productivity of businesses and improved access to education, health care and trade. Beyond the two to three year period, there is likely to be additional impact. However, it is too early to quantify how these effects could play out. RTI’s full report on 2Africa is available here. (This research was done prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Effects of underwater cables in sub-Saharan Africa

Understanding the impact of subsea cables is important in shaping policies and prioritizing the infrastructure investments that will be most effective for growth. Based on the estimates of the most recent studies, subsea cable and broadband infrastructure investments are among the most effective development policies for economic growth in Africa. The promise of subsea cables as the driver of economic growth in Africa warrants excitement over the potential economic impact of 2Africa.

Map of underwater cables in Africa. Source: Steve Song,

Today we’re releasing one Series of studies from RTI International, who analyze the role of subsea cables and broadband connections in the economic development of six countries in sub-Saharan Africa. These reports highlight the importance of subsea cables and the connectivity that goes with them.

The six countries – Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania – show different positive results. Four of the six countries surveyed saw significant increases in employment, taking into account all other variables. The results show us how subsea cables and better connectivity ca drive for economic growth.

For example:

  • in the NigeriaThe underwater cable landings, completed since 2010, have increased the likelihood of employment by 7.8 percent (in areas connected with fiber optics). This means that for every 1 million people living in areas connected by terrestrial fiber, 78,000 additional people will be employed.
  • in the Democratic Republic of CongoThe underwater cable landing, completed in 2012, increased the likelihood of employment for people in connected areas by 8.2 percent – and a 19 percent increase in GDP per capita ($ 789 versus $ 663 for PPP) through 2017.
  • Kenya has seen an increase in jobs and a transition from low-skilled to higher-skilled jobs in related areas. RTI found that the total number of skilled workers increased by 8.4 percent. Of these jobs, 30 percent were new skilled jobs and 70 percent were less skilled jobs transitioning to more skilled jobs.
  • South Africa GDP per capita rose 6.1 percent through 2014 ($ 12,097 versus $ 11,401 for PPP) due to cables that landed in 2009, which improved connectivity and catalyzed economic activity. Employment also rose by 2.2 percent in areas connected to the fiber optic infrastructure. This impact is significant and signals that efforts to address affordability issues are important in order to eliminate inequalities and ensure that the economic benefits of connectivity are shared by all.
  • Mozambique In Maputo, in particular, the employment of urban college graduates rose 13.6 percent. The national fiber optic infrastructure is still being developed and access is limited to a small part of the population, so there is still no significant impact at the national level.
  • Tanzania Employment rose 18.7 percent in selected fiber optic areas, but overall the impact on GDP or national indicators was limited. Many people and companies are not online in Tanzania. Therefore, the effects are currently largely limited to selected areas.

RTI used advanced statistical techniques coupled with local knowledge to document the impact of subsea cables and improved connectivity on economic development. The team specifically studied subsea cable landings in each country over the past 6 to 10 years, monitoring technology trends, population characteristics, and other key factors. These results underscore the importance accelerate the growth of connectivity in sub-Saharan Africa.

2Africa is a continuation of our ongoing efforts to expand the global network infrastructure. 2Africa is an important investment at an important time in the continent’s economic recovery and will play an important role in supporting massive internet expansion to support Africa’s growing digital economy. In regions like sub-Saharan Africa, where more than half of the total global population growth will take place by 2050, we are trying to remove barriers to access. We will continue to work with partners around the world to expand and improve global connectivity, close the digital divide and strengthen the economy. We will continue to research and publish information about the role of subsea cables in Africa and around the world as we invest in this critical infrastructure.

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