Facebook is planning to build two new undersea cables with partners to connect Indonesia, Singapore, and the United States and boost internet capacity in Southeast Asia.
The social network will work with Google and Indonesian telco XL Axiata on Echo, a cable that is expected to be completed in late 2023. It will team up with Telin, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s Telkom, and Singaporean conglomerate Keppel for the development of a separate cable named Bifrost, which will be finalized in 2024.
A Facebook spokesperson, who confirmed the plans to KrASIA, said that the company works with a variety of Indonesian and global partners “to ensure everyone benefits from developing scale infrastructure and shared technology expertise.” Echo and Bifrost will be the first transpacific cables through a new diverse route crossing the Java Sea and will increase overall transpacific capacity by 70%, the company said.
“These projects will benefit people across the region and support Indonesia’s ambition of becoming a new digital hub,” the spokesperson added. “When completed, the cables will deliver much-needed internet capacity, redundancy, and reliability across Indonesia, and support further growth of 4G, 5G, and broadband access for people and businesses.”
Facebook is the most widely used social media platform in Southeast Asia. It has around 241 million users in the region, or about 60% of the 400 million Southeast Asians who are online. The firm has made significant investments to lure more users to its platforms, which include Instagram and WhatsApp.
In September 2018, the company announced that it would build a data center in Singapore for about USD 1 billion, its first in Asia. The facility is expected to open next year and designed to become “one of the most advanced and energy-efficient in the world,” the firm said.
US tech trails behind
Facebook is also stepping up investments in Indonesia, where it counts 140 million users, the third highest number worldwide as of January 2021, according to Statista. In 2020, the company announced several initiatives to boost local internet infrastructure, including 3,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable across 40 cities in six provinces and additional public WiFi hotspots in Greater Jakarta and Bali. Facebook also took a stake in Gojek’s payment arm GoPay, although the alliance reportedly ran into difficulties recently.
Southeast Asia’s economy is growing rapidly, driven by a young and mobile population. This is what attracts global internet giants to spend on infrastructure, according to Claude Achcar, managing partner of Actel Consulting. He said that Alibaba was first to open a data center in Indonesia three years ago. Google launched its “cloud region” in the country last year, while Amazon Web Services followed with its first “edge location” last month. “The Americans need to step up investments to gain an edge,” Achcar said.
Building out the digital economy
The subsea cable network plan emerged shortly after Facebook reportedly canceled a similar project that would have linked California to Hong Kong and Taiwan, amid security concerns and pressure from the US government. While Facebook didn’t reveal which governments are involved in the new projects, Achcar thinks it will bring the tech giant closer to local administrations.
“Facebook and Google have deeper pockets and can afford to invest with a long-term view,” he said. “These investments will also reach remote and hitherto underserved regions, which appeals to the governments.”
Achcar further believes that Facebook’s investment will lead others to follow suit. “So far, Chinese internet firms have not built subsea cables, but I think this may change in the not too distant future,” he said. “For the time being, they are massive investors in data centers and cloud computing platforms in the region, and also in the local ecosystem.” Southeast Asian governments should not take sides and welcome all investments as they are critical for the region’s digital economy, he said.