Brazilian state-owned telecom provider Telebras on Wednesday announced plans to form a joint venture with Spain's IslaLink Submarine Cables to lay and operate an undersea cable linking Brazil and Europe, with work set to begin in the first half of this year.

The $185 million project is expected to be completed in 18 months, Telebras said in a statement.

The company said its board of directors approved a preliminary accord to create the joint venture, in which the Brazilian company will have a 35 percent stake, IslaLink will have a 45 percent interest and investment funds will hold the remaining 20 percent.

The trans-Atlantic cable is of "strategic" importance because it will enable direct communication between Brazil and Europe, Caio Bonilha said Wednesday in his final press conference as CEO of Telebras.

Currently, the vast majority of Brazil's global Internet traffic is routed through the United States, he said before stepping down in favor of Francisco Ziober Filho.

Telebras is a partner in the only existing Brazil-Europe submarine cable, which is mainly used for voice transmission.

Separately, Telebras, Silica Argentina and Silica Chile agreed to form a partnership to "build, operate and maintain" a fiber-optic network that will link the Brazilian city of Uruguaiana with Chile's Pacific coast via the Argentine city of Paso de los Libres, the Brazilian company said.

That network will provide a direct fiber route to Chile and "the networks of the Pacific coast," Telebras said.

Silica Argentina and Silica Chile manage high-capacity networks that link the Chilean cities of Santiago and Osorno with the Argentine cities of Mendoza, Cordoba, Rosario, Buenos Aires, Bahia Blanca, Neuquen, Bariloche and Paso de los Libres.

Telebras, which had been privatized at the end of the 1990s, was revived in 2010 when then-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva tasked it with managing a nationwide plan to expand broadband Internet access. EFE