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Technology

Facebook to build submarine cables linking US and Indonesia

Project also backed by Google reflects increasing focus on south-east Asia's biggest economy

Sudirman Central Business District in Jakarta, Indonesia. Facebook is increasing its focus on south-east Asia’s biggest economy

SINGAPORE (Financial Times) -- Facebook will build two submarine cables connecting the US with Indonesia for the first time as the Silicon Valley group boosts its focus on the world's fastest-growing population of smartphone users.

The project, in which US search giant Google will also own a stake, will supply faster internet to south-east Asia's biggest economy as well as connect both countries to Singapore. The cables will increase data capacity by 70 per cent between the west coast of the US and the Asian countries, Facebook said in a statement on Monday.

The roughly 400 submarine cables in operation around the world carry voice and internet traffic between countries and continents.

Once the domain of telecoms companies, Facebook and other technology groups including Microsoft and Google have become leading investors in such infrastructure.

"These cables together are a big portion of our investment in the Asia Pacific region," said Kevin Salvadori, vice-president of network investments at Facebook. "The region is our fastest-growing population of users across our family of apps so it is really important for that continued growth ... and for our products and services to have fast, reliable and sufficient capacity," he added.

Facebook declined to say how much it was spending on the cables, which are scheduled for completion in 2023 and 2024. The building of submarine cables has become a geopolitical flashpoint for technology companies, especially as tensions rise between the US and China.

The Pacific Light Cable network, funded by Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, stalled last year after the US warned against the link on security grounds. The 13,000km, high-capacity PLCN was meant to link Hong Kong with the US, Taiwan and the Philippines, but Washington opposed the Hong Kong connection on the basis that it could expose global data to China.

Earlier this month, Facebook abandoned its Hong Kong-Americas project, another submarine fibre-optic cable that would have connected California with the Chinese territory, following US government concerns.

However, Claude Achcar, managing partner of Asia-focused consultancy Actel Consulting, said countries in the region other than China were more important to tech companies in terms of users and growth.

"Submarine cables go hand-in-hand with the exponential growth of cloud [computing] services," Achcar said. "Markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are now being developed by hyperscale providers including Facebook, Google, Alibaba and others."

While Chinese companies such as Tencent and Alibaba are not involved in building submarine cables, he said, the two cloud computing providers had the means to do so.

"The smart thing for countries is not to pick sides. Indonesia and fellow Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] nations are better off welcoming tech firms from both China and [the] US," Achcar added.

The Indonesia cable project will support a $1bn data centre Facebook is building in Singapore.

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