By Drew FitzGerald
Facebook Inc.'s investment in an enormous underwater internet cable circling Africa will move forward with help from partners in China, Saudi Arabia and Europe, the companies said Thursday.
The 2Africa internet project, called Simba in its planning phase, would link 16 African countries with cable routes to Europe and the Arabian Peninsula.
Other investors include units of China Mobile Ltd., South Africa's MTN Group Ltd., France's Orange SA, Saudi Telecom Co., Telecom Egypt, U.K.-based Vodafone Group PLC and WIOCC, a telecom company controlled by several African carriers.
Most international Web traffic moves through fiber-optic cables draped across the floors of the world's oceans. Technology companies like Facebook, Google-owner Alphabet Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have spent the past decade taking greater ownership stakes in those data pipes, filling a role that previously was the domain of traditional telephone and broadband providers.
The 2Africa system would involve a massive investment even by Silicon Valley standards. The 23,000-mile network is designed to provide more capacity than all of Africa's existing submarine cables combined, more than doubling the continent's potential bandwidth. Organizers aim to finish construction by 2023 or early 2024.
Facebook's investments have moved beyond building private lines to link its own data centers as the company's infrastructure division prioritizes economic development. Facebook, which also owns the photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp, has said helping connect the more than three billion people who lack internet access will benefit its business in the long run.
The social-media giant has already joined fiber-optic cable projects linking its home country to data hubs in Europe and Asia. It has also invested in projects designed to i mprove wireless coverage in Uganda.
In India, Facebook closed a deal earlier this month to take a $5.7 billion stake in Jio Platforms, a cellphone carrier that upended the country's wireless market with fast, low-cost mobile phone plans. U.S. private-equity firms followed Facebook's lead with their own Jio investments.