Facebook To Install Underwater Cable Around Africa – Is it Possible Security Threat to the West?

  • Facebook announced an initiative to place an underwater cable around African continent.
  • One of the partners is China Mobile, which is deemed a security threat in the US.
  • Google is also working on its own cable.

Facebook is planning to start a project dubbed “2 Africa.” Interestingly, Facebook is going to work with China mobile, MTN from South Africa, French Orange and Vodafone. It also plans to engage local African providers.  Alcatel Submarine Networks will provide the underwater cable system. Alcatel Submarine Networks is a part of the Nokia group.

Infographic of the historic timeline of the Alcatel Submarine Networks.

According to Facebook, the cable will be 37,000 kilometers long, almost equal to the circumference of the Earth. There is no information available how much Facebook invested into the project. Africa has the lowest speed of Internet in comparison to the other continents.

However, there could be a hidden agenda in this project. China and Russia have been looking at gaining more traction in Africa. The continent is rich in resources. Russia even held an African summit in the Fall of the 2019.

Image of the new cable route around African continent.

The submarine cable will connect 23 countries in Africa and other continents. It is expected that the new network will have three times the capacity of all the submarine cables available now on the African continent.  The main goal of this initiative, as per Facebook, is to expand Internet connectivity in African countries.

Facebook states the 2 Africa project has become more efficient by using aluminum rather than copper fiber, as it can help increase network bandwidth. Aluminum has 61% of the conductivity of copper, but has only 30% of the weight of copper. That means that a bare wire of aluminum weighs half as much as a bare wire of copper that has the same electrical resistance. Aluminum is generally more inexpensive compared to copper conductors. The company is currently developing a new route connecting the Red sea to the Mediterranean, which it claims will be the first in the region in more than a decade.

Facebook points out the project is a continuation of its ongoing efforts to expand the global network infrastructure. It is working with a multitude of partners around the globe to create several underwater fiber optic cables that will lead the industry in coverage, capacity, and flexibility.

On the surface the initiative is ambitious. The security part can be unsafe on many levels. One scenario: since China controls China mobile fully, data theft can be easily orchestrated and China is known to steal classified information. What is even more concerning, China is partnering with China mobile that has been barred from the US market over espionage concerns. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated “The Chinese government could use China Mobile to exploit our telephone network to increase intelligence collection against US government agencies and other sensitive targets that depend on this network.” Why would Facebook partner up with the company that is considered a security risk by the US?

Another security issue could be Russia, known for zapping signals. In the fall of 2019, a Russian spy ship disappeared from US Radar. Then there is the Losharik tragedy last year, which was rumored to be related to technology interference with underwater cables. There is also the disappearance of the Geomar in the Baltic Sea, which Russia could have been responsible for.

Image of the Google cable route.

Facebook is already a great intelligence gathering tool and with their reach into Africa, it might allow Western Intelligence to gain an additional advantage.

Google is also working on an underwater cable called Equiano that will connect Africa to Europe. Named for Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian-born writer and abolitionist who was enslaved as a boy, the Equiano cable is state-of-the-art infrastructure based on space-division multiplexing (SDM) technology, with approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve this region.

Equiano will be the first subsea cable to incorporate optical switching at the fiber-pair level, rather than the traditional approach of wavelength-level switching. The search giant has another division named Loon, which produces balloons at high altitude to provide 4G Internet to rural communities. An expansion of this scheme in Mozambique was recently announced.

Overall, these initiatives could have serious security flaws and could pose a risk.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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