It is always exciting to announce our plans to build a new Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data center in new markets. In this case, our partnership with Vodafone, the world’s leading fixed and mobile communications provider, to build a new subsea cable interconnection hub in Genoa, Italy (GN1), is particularly significant. GN1 will serve as a strategic gateway for the 2Africa subsea cable system, coined “the cable of life,” connecting Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
GN1 will provide an agile, modular IBX facility for interconnecting subsea cable systems to our more than 2,900 cloud and IT service providers, 1,800+ networks, business and digital ecosystems, and enterprises of all sizes. As Italy is a key growth market for Equinix in EMEA, we will directly interconnect GN1 to our recently opened data center in Milan (ML5), creating a new interconnected metro area where customers can connect with strategic business partners in Italy, the Mediterranean regions and across the world.
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How 2Africa is connecting continents
Currently, it is estimated that 46.7% of Africa is connected to the internet, lagging behind the global average of 63.2%.[i] However, Africa is now experiencing a critical period of digital transformation and digital economy development. In the next few years, digital technologies will be key to improving African peoples’ quality of life and driving economic development in the region.
As a result of rising 3G/4G mobile subscribers, network operators’ recent investments in metro, terrestrial long-haul and submarine backbone fiber networks have increased, improving internet access for millions of Africans. As the figure below illustrates, international bandwidth usage by African countries has almost quintupled between 2015 and 2019 to reach 15.7 Tbps in 2019.[ii]
2Africa is the one of the most important subsea cable system developments of this decade. It is one of the largest subsea projects in the world, connecting 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe with 21 landings in 16 African countries. The 2Africa consortium includes Vodafone (SHARP), China Mobile International, Facebook, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, stc, Telecom Egypt and WIOCC. At 37,000km long, 2Africa will interconnect Europe (eastward via Egypt) and the Middle East (via Saudi Arabia) and is buried 50% deeper than previous systems for greater protection against external damage.
2Africa is being built by Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), implementing spatial division multiplexing (SDM) technology. ASN was the first to introduce SDM in 2016 and currently owns 60% of the SDM market. SDM allows the deployment of up to 16 fiber pairs instead of the eight fiber pairs supported by older technologies. SDM lowers the capacity per fiber pair to reach the optimal balance between optical and electrical power, signal-to-noise ratio and fiber nonlinearities. ASN’s SDM uplifts cable capacity by more than 70% compared to what was previously possible.
Said Alex Vaxmonsky, Director Ecosystem Development at Equinix, “SDM has changed the paradigm for high-capacity submarine cable systems. And with bandwidth forecasted to grow substantially in the next few years, coupled with the expanding rollout of 5G services, cable operators are seeking new ways to increase available bandwidth between continental landmasses for data center interconnect purposes.”
2Africa will deliver faster internet speeds, better reliability and a massive increase in the capacity of today’s service going into Africa. “As more and more people get connected, and 4G and 5G services are deployed in Africa, they will be able to get access to the public internet where they couldn’t before, positively impacting communities, improving sectors such as healthcare and education and building a more inclusive global digital society,” according to Nick Gliddon, Director, Vodafone Carrier Services.
2Africa Round Trip Route Between Africa, Europe and the Middle East
Building a Mediterranean interconnection hub in Genoa
GN1 opens a new gateway between Europe and South Africa, enabling new opportunities for businesses looking to expand their services across multiple continents. As a global interconnection hub, GN1 considerably increases the connectivity capabilities between key regions of growth in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. This enables direct access to the African market for industry ecosystems such as the energy, financial services and connected car/smart transportation sectors. This direct route from Italy brings high-growth industries to the African economy from Europe and the Middle East. And with a direct fiber link to our flagship Milan (ML5) IBX data center and access to the metro’s mature and rich markets, GN1 will enable the creation of a new key hub for connecting various business and digital ecosystems in the Mediterranean region. This will allow our customers doing business in Italy to collaborate with their employees, partners and customers instantly, across oceans and between continents.
The $21 million investment in GN1 will provide a capacity of 150 cabE / floor and colocation space of approximately 6,000 square feet (560 sq meters) and a baseline power distribution of 500kW, with room to grow. Purpose built for subsea cable landing system (CLS) providers, in its first phase in 2021, GN1 will offer a total 500kW, for up to four CLS, with upside of three additional cable systems in next seven years. The 2Africa Med Cable, connecting Barcelona and Marseille with 2Africa North, will be GN1’s first tenant. GN1 will also be 5G-ready in preparation for the incoming flood of 5G mobile traffic expected from global mobile providers and consumers in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
GN1 provides a balance to the region by augmenting the subsea cable capacity of the massive subsea cable hub at Marseille, France, through which the majority of EMEA’s subsea traffic flows. Genoa provides a more direct and secure (fewer hops) path between 2Africa and subsea routes to the Middle East and Far East. And given 2Africa’s higher traffic capacity and performance, it is estimated that going round trip between Genoa and Africa would be the optimal route for most European and Middle Eastern businesses. GN1 also provides easier accessibility to African businesses, due to Italy’s regulatory conditions versus other countries.
Italy as a center of digital transformation
GN1 brings Italy to the center of digital transformation by offering robust and reliable interconnection solutions to business in Europe, the Middle East and the continent of Africa. GN1 will provide access to advanced interconnection services Equinix Fabric™ and Equinix Internet Exchange™, enabling private, virtual interconnections to some of the largest cloud providers in the world, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and Google Cloud. Equinix Fabric has also progressed to become the optimal choice for how our customers connect all their digital infrastructure on Platform Equinix. It allows businesses to interconnect distributed IT infrastructure (physical and virtual) between Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data centers across global metros.
According to Nick Gliddon, Director, Vodafone Carrier Services, “As one of the partners responsible for landing the 2Africa cable in multiple countries, and the lead for the European landings, we are pleased to collaborate with Equinix in Genoa. Our project will diversify connectivity by linking Equinix IBX data centers in Spain and Portugal directly to those in Genoa and Milan. This improves intra-European connectivity and further strengthens Vodafone’s Gigabit networks.”
Learn more about interconnecting your business to the rest of the world by reading the Equinix Fabric data sheet.
[i] World Internet Users Statistics and 2021 World Population Stats (internetworldstats.com)
[ii] TeleGraphy, “Regional Analysis: Africa Supply and Demand Pricing Supply and Demand Network,” 2020.