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Facebook and Google are planning a new undersea cable to connect Japan to Southeast Asia as the Silicon Valley groups boost internet infrastructure investment in regions with high growth potential.
The Apricot cable, expected to launch in 2024, will span 12,000 km and connect Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore.
The investment, the size of which has not been disclosed, is part of US tech companies’ drive to meet the growing demand for broadband access and 5G wireless connectivity in Asia.
Apricot will complement Facebook’s other two submarine cables it announced in March, Echo and Bifrost, which will connect the US to Indonesia via Singapore. The US social media group said Monday that the link would “provide much-needed internet capacity, redundancy and reliability to expand connections in the Asia-Pacific region”.
Submarine cables, of which there are about 400 worldwide, carry almost all voice and internet connections between countries. Over the past decade, tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon have become leading infrastructure investors, especially as emerging countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, are increasing their internet usage.
“Tech companies are investing in cables and even satellites to make it easier to use their services and extend their reach,” said Robert Hillard, partner at Deloitte. “If the limits on your search engine, cloud service, or even connected cars are access to enough data, then it’s worth starting more of these projects.”
Asia is one of the biggest sources of growth for companies like Facebook, which rely on users in countries including Indonesia to fuel growth as it declines in mature, western markets.
But submarine cables have become a heated geopolitical problem for tech companies given the tensions between the US and China. The links improve access to online information in the region and are a form of soft power for the US, which has expressed concerns about China’s role in handling internet traffic.
The Pacific Light Cable network, funded by Facebook and Google, was suspended in 2020 after the US warned against the project for security reasons. The 13,000 km link was intended to connect Hong Kong and several Asian countries to the US, but Washington opposed the Hong Kong leg because of its potential to expose global data to China.
Last week, Amazon and Facebook asked the US government for approval to build a new submarine data cable between the Philippines and California after China Mobile, one of China’s largest telecom groups, agreed to end the project.
Facebook said restructuring the property was the “best way forward” to complete construction.
The Federal Communications Commission rejected an attempt by China Mobile to provide telecommunications services in the US in 2019, citing national security concerns.