The Mediterranean is not only a crucial trade crossroad, it is also an important internet junction. This sea is crossed by a wide net of cables that allow web communications between Europe and Africa and, from here, the Middle East and the rest of the Asian continent.
As Internet traffic is expected to grow significantly in the region, an intense competition is taking place among those who seek to connect Asia and Africa to the big digital highways of North America and Europe.
In December 2008, the failure of three out of four submarine cables currently operating on the seabed off the Egyptian coast caused a 70% drop in India’s Internet traffic, plus various problems in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Singapore, all of which suffered important economic consequences.
When a major Internet connection fails, its traffic is diverted to other hubs, usually with no consequences for the users. But some parts of the world, such as the Mediterranean, represent a bottleneck, and when these crucial connections fail, there are few alternatives. As a consequence, other links are put under pressure, sometimes triggering a chain effect that can cause other failures.
This is the case with the Mediterranean cables today. But in the near future, those very same cables will be even more important than now. Today, the entire African continent generates only a mere 5% of the global Internet traffic. But this figure is to grow significantly in the future, together with the traffic generated in the Middle East.
For this reason, all Southern European countries are racing to become key players in the scramble to increase the digital connections between Africa and Northern Europe. At the moment, France is in a leading position, despite Italy’s geographic potential. Our country, in fact, could offer the shortest –and less expensive – connections, through the Sicilian channel or via Malta, and then exploiting potentially strategic hubs like the cities of Catania, Naples, Bologna and Genoa. The digital race is far from over.