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Portugal’s Advancements in Subsea Cables and Digital Infrastructure [Feature Article]

Digital connectivity is the backbone of the modern global economy. As the world grows more interconnected, the need for reliable, high-speed digital infrastructure is more crucial than ever. One country that has made significant strides in this arena is Portugal. Portugal’s strategic location and aggressive investment in technology have positioned it as a key player in the development of digital infrastructure, particularly in the area of subsea cables. 

The country’s geographical location as the westernmost nation of mainland Europe gives it a strategic advantage in the digital world. It serves as a gateway between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, making it an ideal landing point for subsea cables. JSA Media Consultant João Marques Lima offers a closer look.

Several projects have cemented Portugal’s status as a digital gateway. These include the Equiano and EllaLink submarine cables, as well as the forthcoming Medusa cable. These infrastructure projects connect Portugal to various regions across the globe, significantly improving international internet capacity.

The Equiano subsea cable, funded by Google, became operational in 2022. It is deployed from Portugal to South Africa, enhancing digital connectivity between Europe and several West African countries. Equiano has a significant economic impact, increasing Portuguese GDP by up to €500 million per year by lowering latency, improving internet bandwidth, and facilitating trade and investment.

Similarly, the EllaLink cable connects Portugal to West Africa and Brazil. It further strengthens Portugal’s position as a digital gateway and contributes to the surge in international internet capacity landing in Portugal.

In the pipeline is the Medusa Submarine Cable System, a project sponsored by AFR-IX Telecom and in collaboration with Altice Portugal which provides landing services. This 8,700km cable will connect nine countries in Africa and Europe. The cable is set to land at the Carcavelos landing station – in the Lisbon region -, serving as the western point of the system. 

Pan-European Investment Plan

In addition to these projects, Portugal is pushing for a pan-European investment plan to upgrade the continent’s digital infrastructure. The strategy, which has gained political backing from across the bloc, aims to increase submarine data connections across Europe and to other continents. This plan is part of Portugal’s vision of Europe becoming a global data manager and digital services provider.

Major US tech companies like Google and Meta have played a significant role in Portugal’s digital advancement. As mentioned earlier, Google is the primary investor in the Equiano cable. Meta, on the other hand, is investing in the 2Africa subsea cable system, another project set to land on Portuguese shores.

These investments from tech giants demonstrate the growing role of private entities in the development of digital infrastructure. They also underscore Portugal’s strategic importance as a digital hub.

The development of digital infrastructure has far-reaching economic implications. Improved connectivity can boost trade, attract investment, and increase productivity.

For Portugal, the forthcoming subsea cables are expected to lower the cost of data trade between Europe and Africa, thus facilitating trade and allowing more Portuguese firms to engage with Africa. The cables are also expected to attract foreign direct investments, making Portugal a more attractive location as a digital gateway.

Moreover, key digital infrastructures like Equiano support teleworking and online meetings, thereby increasing productivity. 

In an era where data is the new oil – and data centres are the new oil refineries -, Portugal is working towards achieving digital sovereignty. The country’s strategy involves mapping out how data flows in and out of Europe through submarine cables and proposing a strategy to deal with security and dependency risks.

Portugal is also making efforts to diversify its data routes to ensure secure and resilient connections not only in the northern hemisphere but also to countries in the southern hemisphere. The EU has already invested in laying cables connecting the continent to Latin America.

Growing Infrastructure Investments

The influx of subsea cables is driving a surge in data centre investments in Portugal. Among these investments is the Start Campus project in Sines, one of the largest capital commitments globally in 2021.

The campus will include five buildings capable of supplying up to 495 megawatts of cheap energy from renewable sources to the servers. The project, dubbed Sines 4.0, is expected to address the growing demand of large international technology companies.

Portugal’s pursuit of digital sovereignty is closely tied to its commitment to sustainability. The country has made remarkable progress in renewable energy transition, which plays a crucial role in powering its digital infrastructure.

Portugal’s renewable energy policies aim for carbon neutrality primarily through broad electrification of energy demand and a rapid expansion of renewable electricity generation, along with increased energy efficiency.

Often forgotten, the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union has added another layer of complexity to the digital landscape. Data flowing in and out of Europe is frequently routed through the UK, making the end of the transition period a potential concern for European data flows. However, Portugal’s digital infrastructure and strategic location can help mitigate these concerns.

While Portugal has made significant strides, the journey towards digital sovereignty is far from over. The country continues to push for innovations in digital infrastructure and renewable energy, paving the way for a sustainable, digitally-connected future.

From its strategic geographical location to its commitment to innovation and sustainability, Portugal is carving out a niche for itself in the digital world. The development of subsea cables and digital infrastructure showcases Portugal’s vision of becoming a global digital hub. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, Portugal’s advancements in digital connectivity will play a critical role in shaping the future of the global digital economy, especially across the Atlantic.

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