Exploring the subsea: latest developments in submarine networks
The submarine cable industry has played a large role within the last five years in connecting the continents together by delivering instant, high-speed and effective communication. Currently, submarine cables are responsible for carrying the majority of social media, financial transactions (including commerce) as well as government communications. For these reasons (with banking and finance relying on submarine cables), it is essential that the submarine cable capacity is efficient and avoids points of failure.
The submarine cable industry is experiencing progressive growth with insights showing that the global market is expected to rise by (to $30.8 billion) by 2026. According to a report conducted by The Submarine Cable System, such growth can be due to the constant need for network capabilities, growth in internet traffic as well as the growing number of telecom subscriptions. Discover the latest developments in submarine networks:
Google announced a new subsea cable late last year (2019) referred to as ‘Equiano’ that will connect Africa with Europe in the hopes of boosting its cloud computer infrastructure. Equiano will run along the West Coast of Africa (starting in Western Europe), branching out to various points along the journey, ending in Cape Town, South Africa. Fully funded by Google, Equiano will be their 14th subsea cable investment globally.
Equiano is unique in the fact that it will operate differently to traditional cables. Rather than opting for the traditional approach of wave-length level switching, instead it will incorporate optical switching at the fiber-pair level. The thought process behind the decision is that it simplifies the allocation of cable capacity, creating flexibility to add and reallocate it in various locations as needed. The first phase of the project (connecting South Africa with Portugal) is expected to be completed in 2021.
Google’s subsea cable ‘Curie’ is expected to begin transmitting in the second half of 2020 after passing the installation and testing phase. Initially commissioned in 2018, Curie is Google’s third wholly-owned subsea cable. By Google owning and operating their own subsea cables, it allows for stronger security and enables the company to plan the future’s capacity needs in advance. Curie is expected to be used for the following Google services: Gmail, Search, YouTube and Google Cloud. Curie is constructed with four 10 Tbps fiber-optic pairs and spans between the United States through to Chile (10,500km in length), delivering 72 Tbps of bandwidth to South America.
Industry professional, Georg Mohs, believes that the technology that is being applied to the latest subsea cables allows for increased capacity levels. Insights show that there is a push to maximise the capacity for fibre on the cable rather than maximising the capacity per fiber pair. Using the pump power that is available ensures that this new process is being used to its full potential. According to Mohs, the pump power is what drives the amplifiers / the repeaters in the system. In order to use pump power more efficiently it needs to be split into multiple fibre pairs so that there is less capacity per fibre pair, resulting in more fibre pairs and therefore increased capacity on the cable.
Europe India Gateway (EIG)
The Europe India Gateway (EIG) submarine cable system has undergone works to advance connectivity between businesses in the UK, Europe, Middle East and India. The EIG cable system spans 15,000 km and is responsible for transporting large quantities of data between consumers and businesses. The reasoning behind the recent upgrade is to utilise flexible, express wavelengths (also known as optical bypass) to cut operational costs and improve power requirements. The upgrade adds 24.3 Tbps of capacity to the EIG cable, increasing the spectral efficiency by 52%.
The MIST submarine cable system spans 11,000km between Singapore, Myanmar and India with the potential for expansion in the future. The construction stems from a joint venture between NTT Ltd and Orient Link Pte Ltd. for International submarine cables in Southeast Asia. The MIST cable will have the largest cable capacity in the region, designed to support 240Tbps with 400 Gbps optical wavelength-division multiplex transmission. Construction is set to commence in June 2022.
According to Ian Clarke (Vice President at Global Submarine Systems), a change that is currently affecting submarine networks is the construction of data centres rather than cities. Previously, the North Atlantic cables went from New York to London (as they were VolP centres), however instead they are now going to areas which have data centres (such as Dublin). Therefore, the rise of data centres creates the need for submarine cables (as data centres require connection to cables).
Another trend that is surfacing is coherent transmission. Georg Mohs explains that with the extended reach that we currently have within the trans-oceanic systems, new structures are being created that can span across wide distances. These structures span for approximately 10,000 km and are being powered by coherent technology. However, challenges are arising with this method as by increasing the distance that cables span between, the issue of supporting more capacity on the cable arises and with more capacity comes the need for better signal to noise ratio. In order to gain better signal, more power is required. As power can only be provided via the ends of the cable (due to the lack of outlets along the ocean floor), longer cables make it difficult to power the additional capacity needed.
The range of VIAVI testing and monitoring tools are designed specifically to handle all aspects of the submarine cable network, from the building stage right through to activation and monitoring. The submarine network typically poses unique obstacles due to the environment and conditions that the cables are situated within which is why it is critical to be equipped with the right instruments. As such, the entire architecture of a typical submarine cable network is divided into elements (wet plant, dry plant, landing station, umbilical cables, lengths/distances and repeaters/amplifiers). Each element plays a crucial role in protecting and delivering the data throughout the network system. Protect and monitor the submarine network with end to end solutions from VIAVI.