Google is forming a four-way partnership to invest in a wholesale broadband infrastructure project designed to bring fast and reliable internet access to cities across Africa.
The initiative is an extension of Project Link, a program Google first introduced to the Ugandan capital of Kampala back in 2013 in an effort to provide local internet service providers (ISPs) or mobile networks access to a more efficient infrastructure. The basic premise is this: Local ISPs roll out new services, such as 4G or public Wi-Fi zones, with Google opening access to the “last mile” that links into the more extensive long-distance fiber network connecting countries and continents.
Project Link has since expanded to cover more than 1,600km of fiber networks within five cities across Uganda and Ghana, where dozens of ISPs and mobile networks offer a range of services.
In the years since launch, Project Link was quietly rolled into an umbrella corporate brand called CSquared, and today Google has revealed that it’s bringing three strategic partners on board: ICT investment companies Convergence Partners and Mitsui and International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is part of the World Bank Group.
CSquared will be run as an independent company, with its main headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. Although CSquared’s network is currently only active in Uganda and Ghana, more countries are planned for the future, with $100 million worth of “cumulative capital commitments” in place to support the expansion.
“Together with our new partners, we believe CSquared can roll out and operate affordable, high-speed, and reliable infrastructure to further expand internet access in Africa,” explained Marian Croak, Google’s vice president for access strategy and emerging markets.
With many technology companies pushing for universal internet access to help enable the uptake of their respective services, giants such as Google and Facebook have been testing out various mechanisms to open web access for all. Facebook has previously tested drone-delivered internet, and it’s investing in satellite-based technology, too. Google, for its part, has been rolling out free public Wi-Fi services across India as part of its overarching plan to targetthe “next billion” internet users, and it has also backed high-bandwidth undersea internet cables.
With Project Link and CSquared, Google is doubling down on its efforts to support the underlying internet infrastructure which, in turn, opens up new markets for the internet giant’s own online services.
Here is the official Press release
Three billion people around the world are now online, but access remains critically low in Africa, where only 10% of households can connect to the Internet.
In 2011, a team of Googlers identified a major barrier to more affordable, reliable broadband in Africa: the lack of fiber optic networks in large cities. This led to Project Link, an initiative to build world-class, high-speed urban fiber networks in Africa’s metropolises. In 2013 we folded these efforts under a new Google brand calledCSquared
with the aim of bringing other companies into the market, expanding access and lowering costs. CSquared has built more than 800 km of fiber in the cities of Kampala and Entebbe; and 840 km of fiber in the Ghanaian cities of Accra, Tema, and Kumasi. In both Ghana and Uganda, more than 25 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) now use these metro fiber networks to offer broadband services and 4G data to end users, with more than 1,200 tower and commercial building sites connected directly to CSquared’s fiber.
|Suzan Kitariko, Country Manager for Uganda (fourth from left) with Uganda’s Minister of Communications, John Nasasira (fifth from left) along with partners and Googlers.
CSquared’s network infrastructure supports the needs of entrepreneurs
, and corporate offices. For example, in Uganda, CSquared’s fiber system provides the high-speed last-mile connections for higher education and health research institutions located in the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area through the Research and Education Network for Uganda
|Digging the trenches in Ghana
In the process of building these wholesale-only, carrier-neutral networks, we realized that CSquared could move even faster by bringing in new partners with strong backgrounds and experience in infrastructure in Africa. So today, CSquared is becoming a four-way partnership that combines the expertise and experience of four companies: Google, Convergence Partners, International Finance Corporation (IFC), and Mitsui & Co., Ltd. CSquared will benefit from Convergence Partners
’ deep experience of information and communication technology sector investing in sub-Saharan Africa,IFC’s
experience as the world’s largest global development finance institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets as well as Mitsui
’s cross-industry capabilities, vast investment portfolio, global business presence, and experience as a strategic investor in the ICT segment. Together with our new partners, we believe CSquared can roll-out and operate affordable, high-speed, and reliable infrastructure to further expand internet access in Africa.
While CSquared will work to improve access, Google will continue to give users, businesses and entrepreneurs in Africa a great experience online and help them make the most out of being connected to the internet. Our Digital Skills for Africa
project, for example, has now trained over one million people, and will look to provide offline versions of the training materials in local languages to reach individuals and businesses in low-access areas. This is on top of our Google.org education grant of $2 million USD to support Tangerine, which boosts curriculum development in Kenya and boosts teachers’ skills. Earlier this year, we launched Street View in Ghana, Senegal, and Uganda to help people better navigate their cities. Meanwhile, the African content ecosystem is growing: in November 2016 we held the first-ever SSA YouTube Awards
in Johannesburg to support video creators in Africa.
The internet is transforming Africa, both Google and CSquared are committed to ensuring that as many people as possible have access to the internet and all the opportunities it can bring.