Africa is the world’s fastest-growing bandwidth market

Paratus Group CEO Barney Harmse assists with the recent landing of Google’s Equiano cable in Swakopmund, Namibia in 2022. Image: Desert Pearl Photography

The construction of new oceanic submarine internet cables around Africa has dramatically boosted the continent’s international connectivity in recent years, a new report shows.

The report by the Digital Council Africa – and conducted by Digitalthings – found that total international bandwidth to the continent jumped from 12.2Tbit/s to 52Tbit/s between 2019 and 2023. In the same period, the average throughput across those international links expanded from 4.6Tbit/s to 18.3Tbit/s, with peak traffic jumping from 7.6Tbit/s to 30.7Tbit/s.

Those figures are expected to grow further in the coming years as new submarine systems, including the Facebook-backed 2Africa cable, come online.

According to the Digital Council Africa report, the expanded capacity creates opportunities for content delivery networks, cloud services and software-as-a-service providers.

“Submarine systems, terrestrial fibre and data centre investments make Africa the top-growing bandwidth market globally,” the report said. “Africa experienced the most rapid growth of international internet bandwidth, growing at a compound annual rate of 44% between 2019 and 2023.”

TeleGeography, the report noted, forecasts a compound growth of 42% between 2022 and 2029, surpassing the expected global average of 32%. Netflix, Microsoft, Google, Meta Platforms (the parent of Facebook and Instagram), Amazon and Apple are the biggest generators of internet traffic, producing nearly half of all traffic in 2022. Content providers have experienced 80% compound annual growth rates in African bandwidth between 2018 and 2022.

72 cables

“Driven by streaming video usage and growth in traffic across app categories, both average and peak international internet traffic increased at a compound annual rate of 30% between 2019 and 2023, slightly above the 28% compounded annual growth rate in bandwidth over the same period.”

There are now 72 active submarine cables serving various parts of Africa.

“Hyperscalers such as Meta, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are increasingly becoming an integral part of submarine cable system development as they move from being capacity purchasers to cable owners. From the US$13.2-billion investment for planned systems over the next few years, 30% is tied up in hyperscaler-backed systems. In sub-Saharan Africa, Google’s Equiano cable is already operational, and the imminent launch of 2Africa underscores their transformative potential in further enhancing connectivity and fostering economic development.”

2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 CAGR 2019-2023
International bandwidth (Gbit/s) 12 227 18 320 26 062 36 885 52 020 44%
Average traffic (Gbit/s) 4 610 6 890 9 128 13 553 17 262 39%
Peak traffic (Gbit/s) 7 577 11 370 15 984 22 351 30 675 42%
Average utilisation 38% 38% 35% 37% 33% -3%
Peak utilisation 62% 62% 61% 61% 59% -1%

The Equiano cable will “revolutionise cable diversity and create new economic opportunities across the African region, with landing points in Lisbon, Benin, Nigeria, St Helena, Namibia and South Africa”.

“This high-capacity cable, spanning 15 000km and featuring 12 fibre pairs with a design capacity of 144Tbps, provides approximately 20 times more capacity than existing Europe-to-South Africa cables.”

The 2Africa cable being brought ashore in Amanzimtoti, near Durban

The Meta-backed 2Africa, meanwhile, should be completed by the end of the year. It will be the largest submarine cable system in the world when it’s construction is completed. 2Africa landed in Djibouti, Kenya, France, Italy and South Africa in 2022, and as of September 2023 had further extended its reach to Angola, Comoros, Egypt, Madagascar, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the research report said.

“With a vast infrastructure spanning 45 000km, boasting 16 fibre pairs and a design capacity of up to 180Tbit/s, 2Africa is set to interconnect 33 countries through 46 landing points across Africa, Europe and Asia.”

Read: Google’s giant Equiano Internet cable has landed in South Africa

Intra-Africa capacity within sub-Saharan Africa being serviced from South Africa also exploded between 2016 and 2022, with compound growth of over 50%/year, with South Africa entrenching its position as the content hub for Africa, the report found.  – © 2024 NewsCentral Media

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