Cable Compendium: a guide to the week’s submarine and terrestrial developments

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19 Feb 2021

Ocean Networks (ONI) has announced that it has launched its Caribbean Express (CX) submarine cable project aiming to link Florida to Panama. The CX system is an 18-fibre pair submarine system that will utilise SDM technology to connect West Palm Beach (Florida), Balboa (Panama), Cancun (Mexico) and Cartagena (Colombia), with future connectivity to other countries also planned. ‘Significant’ capital has already been invested in advancing the route development including market analysis, permit and environmental studies and securing landing party agreements. To complete the funding of the USD300 million project, ONI has engaged Atlanta-based merchant bank Commenda, with several large corporate customers said to be indicating an interest in either a dedicated fibre pair or managed bandwidth on the planned system. In conjunction with the remaining capital commitments, supplier requests for quotation (RFQ) will be issued next month to selected system suppliers, with the awarded contracts in force (CIF) to be revealed by July 2021. CX’s ready for service (RFS) date is estimated for early 2024.

Full-service submarine fibre-optic telecoms consulting and project management company Pioneer Consulting has been awarded the shipboard representation contract for the trans-Pacific Southern Cross NEXT submarine cable system connecting Australia to the US. As shipboard representatives, Pioneer Consulting will supervise cable loading, freighter transfer, laying operations, post-lay inspection and burial, shore-end landings and several project management tasks. The 13,700km Southern Cross NEXT cable will provide 72Tbps of total design capacity between Sydney (Australia), Auckland (New Zealand) and the US, with additional connections to Fiji, Samoa, Tokelau and Kiribati. The cable features Alcatel Submarine Networks’ (ASN’s) WSS ROADM units and the latest generation of submarine repeaters and is designed to be adaptable to future technology developments. The system is expected to be completed in Q2 2022.

The Australia-Papua New Guinea-2 (APNG-2) submarine cable system linking Australia to Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been decommissioned after 16 years of service. The APNG-2 cable system was built following the recovery and reuse of a 1,800km section of the PacRimWest cable, which itself connected Australia to Guam when it entered services in 1994. Following PacRimWest’s decommissioning in 2005, the system was cut near the Solomon Islands and re-laid to form APNG-2, thus saving 80% of the cost for building a new cable and plant with the equipment from the Guam landing station being moved to PNG.

Paratus and Telecom Namibia have signed an agreement to jointly land the Equiano submarine cable system in Namibia. Paratus Group CEO Barney Harmse was cited by ITWeb Africa as saying: ‘This is a major milestone for Paratus. We are honoured to be co-investing with Telecom Namibia on the Equiano subsea cable project because this matches our goals of delivering unlimited connectivity and building Africa’s quality network with all the internet capacity it needs.’ Equiano’s Namibian landing station is scheduled to be completed in late 2021, with the cable expected to land on Namibian shores in the second half of 2022. As currently planned, the Equiano system will initially link Lisbon (Portugal) to Cape Town in South Africa, with additional branches to other African countries. The new system, to be laid by Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), will be Google’s fourth private cable, following the deployment of the Junior system linking Rio de Janeiro and Santos in Brazil (certified RFS in Q3 2018), the Curie network between Los Angeles (US) and Valparaiso in Chile (RFS Q2 2020) and Dunant, linking Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez in France and the US (RFS January 2021).

The Administrative Tribunal of New Caledonia (TANC) has rejected an application filed by Societe Caledonienne de Connectivite Internationale (SCCI) for the cancelation of the contract signed between Office des Postes et Telecommunications de Nouvelle-Caledonie (OPT-NC) and Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) for the supply and installation of an international and domestic data transportation network (signed in April 2020), ordering SCCI to pay OPT-NC and ASN XPF300,000 (USD3,003) each. The new system will comprise two parts – the international section of the system (dubbed Gondwana-2) will be deployed between New Caledonia and Fiji, while a domestic cable called Picot-2 will link Lifou, Mare, Yate, Iles des Pins and Grande Terre. Following TANC’s decision, the OPT-NC has revealed that authorisations necessary to finalise the layout of the cable have been obtained from New Caledonian, Fijian and Ni-Vanuatu authorities. Further, the company disclosed that the vessel which will undertake the marine survey will start its work from Fiji towards New Caledonia in late February. The data collected will enable OPT-NC to complete the applications to be submitted to New Caledonian and Fijian authorities in the coming months in order to obtain the final authorisations regarding the rollout of the submarine cable. The cable is expected to be operational in 2022.

Honolulu-based Hawaiian Telcom (HTI) and the bankruptcy estate of the Paniolo Cable Company have filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its consent to assign the cable landing licence for the Paniolo Cable System from Paniolo Cable Company to HTI, following the inking of a definitive purchase agreement between the two parties. In December 2020 HTI agreed to acquire inter-island submarine and middle-mile terrestrial fibre infrastructure assets currently owned by the bankruptcy estate of the Paniolo Cable Company for a total purchase price of USD50 million.

Russia’s Rostelecom has built the first submarine fibre-optic backbone cable to Kaliningrad. The new undersea link runs from Kingisepp (in Leningrad Oblast, Russia) to the Russian exclave region situated between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast. Rostelecom announced that the new high speed line ‘will ensure independence and increase the reliability of connecting the westernmost region to the federal digital infrastructure’ as previously only land-based backbone routes were used, passing through the territory of other countries. The Kingisepp-Kaliningrad cable spans 1,115km with a throughput of 100Gbps, expandable to 8Tbps. Rostelecom’s president Mikhail Oseyevsky highlighted the complexities of the project: ‘The route for laying the fibre-optic cable in the waters of the Baltic Sea has 50 intersections with gas pipelines, power cables and communication cables, for example, with Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2. In addition, seven sea mines were destroyed during construction by the forces of the Baltic Fleet.’

Norway-based designer and shipbuilder of specialised vessels VARD has announced that Orange Marine is expanding its fleet with a vessel from its portfolio. The new ship will be built by Colombo Dockyard and will be specifically designed for the maintenance of submarine cables.

A submarine cable fault on the SeaMeWe-5 cable system has been reported, affecting international connectivity in a number of countries in the Middle East and Eastern Africa. The fault is said to have occurred near Abu Talat, Egypt. Elsewhere, another submarine cable serving East Africa – SEACOM – is scheduled for marine repair operations near Egypt from 1 March 2021. SEACOM was cited as saying in an email to partner telecoms companies: ‘Once the repair commences, transmission services with linear traffic routing from South and East Africa towards Europe and India will be affected for [eleven] days during the cable repair operations.’

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Australia, Colombia, Fiji, Kiribati, Mexico, Namibia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Samoa, Tokelau, Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), Google (Alphabet), Hawaiian Telcom, Office des Postes et Telecoms de Nouvelle-Caledonie (OPT-NC), Orange Marine, Paratus (Namibia), Rostelecom, SEACOM, Telecom Namibia (incl. TN Mobile)