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

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12 Mar 2021

The HKA consortium – comprising RTI, China Telecom, China Unicom, Facebook, Tata Communications and Telstra – has withdrawn its application to construct a new submarine cable between the US and Hong Kong. Facebook informed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that the application for the Hong Kong Americas (HKA) system will be withdrawn, pending a new request for a ‘a possibly-reconfigured submarine cable system’. TeleGeography notes that in January 2021 the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector informed the FCC that it will perform a secondary 90-day assessment of the application for the deployment of the HKA system, as ‘the risk to national security or law enforcement interests cannot be mitigated by standard mitigation measures.’ The HKA submarine cable network spanning more than 13,000km was planned as a six-fibre pair system, with landing points at Chung Hom Kok in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Hermosa Beach in California. A turnkey contract for the system was awarded to Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) in January 2018.

EllaLink has announced that it has successfully completed the marine installation of its trans-Atlantic cable system between Europe and Latin America. For the next stage of the project, EllaLink has selected Infinera and its ICE6 technology to light the network, providing a direct single hop transmission path between data centres in each continent. Infinera’s ICE6 800G coherent technology will enable EllaLink to offer advanced customer products and services, supporting over 100Tbps between Portugal and Brazil. Furthermore, the network will support a 30Tbps link from Portugal to Madeira, with an additional 40Tbps path between Portugal and Morocco in the future. Future network expansions will enable EllaLink to extend its submarine network to French Guiana, Mauritania, the Canary Islands and Morocco. EllaLink also plans to use ICE6 to bolster the capacity on its long-haul terrestrial network between Sines, Lisbon (Portugal), Madrid (Spain) and Marseille (France). Diego Matas, Chief Operations Officer at EllaLink, said: ‘I am proud to announce that we have successfully completed the 6,000km submarine cable installation, providing EllaLink with the robust system it needs to support the network through its lifetime … Coupled with our differentiated fibre routes, Infinera and ICE6 will provide us the means to offer our customers advanced products and services from day one, in May 2021.’

Facebook, China Mobile International Limited (CMI) and Amazon Data Services (formerly known as Vadata) have filed an application with the FCC for the extension of the existing Special Temporary Authority (STA) to construct, connect, and test at their own risk the portion of the CAP-1 system in the US territory waters. The CAP-1 system reflects the reconfiguration of the earlier Bay to Bay Express (BtoBE) cable system, the application for which had been withdrawn due to security concerns. The applicants highlight that the construction of the wet segment of CAP-1 within US territorial waters has now been finalised, though further on-shore work must be completed before testing of the US portion can be undertaken. The CAP-1 system connecting Grover Beach (California) and Pagudpud (the Philippines) will have six fibre pairs and consist of a single 12,000km trunk between an existing facility at Grover Beach, California and a new cable landing station at Pagudpud. When it enters commercial operations (scheduled for Q4 2022), the cable will have a design capacity of 90×200Gbps (or equivalent) per fibre pair using current technology, with an aggregate design capacity of 108Tbps. Facebook and its affiliates will hold a 41.67% participation interest (and 50.00% voting rights) in the system, while CMI will have 50.00% (42.86%) and Amazon 8.33% (7.14%). In September 2020 the applicants were granted a 180-day Special Temporary Authority (STA) to construct, connect, and test the system; the STA expires on 31 March 2021.

Google has requested two STAs from the FCC regarding the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) system. One is looking for the regulator’s consent for the continuation of commercial operations over limited portions of the PLCN prior to the grant of a pending application for a licence to construct, land and operate the PLCN system connecting the US to Taiwan and the Philippines. Specifically, GU Holdings seeks 180-day STA to operate the following portions of PLCN connecting the US to Taiwan: the fibre pair owned by GU Holdings and its affiliates and used to connect the US and Branching Unit 1 (Fibre Pair 2 on each of Segments S1.1.1 and S.1.1.2); the branch owned by GU Holdings’ affiliates connecting Toucheng (Taiwan) to Branching Unit 1, including the two fibre pairs on that branch (Segment S2); and common equipment necessary to operate Fibre Pair 2 between the US and Taiwan. With this request, GU Holdings does not seek authority to commence commercial operation of Segments S1.2 or S3, or Fibre Pair 1 owned by Edge Cable Holdings (Facebook) and its affiliates. For clarity, the instant request for STA would not authorise any commercial traffic on PLCN to or from the Philippines, nor any operation of the system by Edge USA or its affiliates. It also would not authorise any commercial traffic on the Hong Kong Path nor any operation of the system by Pacific Light Data Communications (PLDC), which retains an interest in unused fibre pairs and system common equipment but is excluded as an applicant for the cable landing licence. The request seeks the same STA granted to GU Holdings in September last year, with an expiration date of 21 March 2021. Simultaneously, Google has requested a 180-day extension to its STA (granted in September 2020) to construct, connect, and test the PLCN system within the US territory. The applicant highlights that without an STA extension, further construction and testing of the PLCN system would likely be delayed at a significant cost and thereby delay the benefits of the new trans-Pacific capacity the PLCN will provide. The request for extending the validity of the STA would not authorise any commercial use of the PLCN system, which is the subject of a separate request for STA.

Newly formed investment trust Digital 9 Infrastructure – managed by Triple Point – has announced plans to list its shares and subsequently purchase submarine cable provider Aqua Comms as its first investment. Digital 9 said it would pay USD215 million for Aqua Comms on a cash-free, debt-free basis. Aqua Comms will make up about 30% of Digital 9’s gross asset value after the initial public offering (IPO). Aqua Comms is an Ireland-based carriers’ carrier specialising in building and operating submarine cable systems and supplying fibre pairs, spectrum and capacity networking solutions to the global content, cloud and carrier markets. It is the owner/operator of America Europe Connect-1 (AEC-1), America Europe Connect-2 (AEC-2) and CeltixConnect-1 (CC-1) systems. The company is currently developing the Havhingsten/CeltixConnect-2 and Havhingsten/North Sea Connect (NSC) cables.

Mark Wickham, CEO of Datawave Networks, has provided an update on the progress of the Singapore India Gateway (SING) cable system, claiming that the cable remains ‘firmly on track’ for its 2023 delivery. The executive revealed that Datawave Networks has locked in its project financing for the SING cable and has completed several key steps to meet its ready for service (RFS) timelines including completion of the Desk Top Study (DTS) – awarded to Global Marine in September 2020 – and securing commitments from anchor customers. The supply contract is in the closing stages of being finalised, with the India and Singapore licences on track and ‘progressing in line with expectations’. The SING system design is currently being finalised to meet the specific networks requirements of its partners and customers before construction commences in June 2021. The 9,000km system – first announced in April 2020 – is aiming to connect Singapore and Mumbai and Chennai in India, with additional branches to Thailand, Indonesia and Oman. The system will feature Space Division Multiplexing (SDM) amplifier design and WSS ROADM technology and will offer at least 18Tbs per fibre pair between each PoP.

Turk Telekom International (TTI) has announced the activation of the KAFOS submarine cable system connecting Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. KAFOS is a 504km unrepeated submarine cable system that spans across the Black Sea connecting Mangalia (Romania), Varna (Bulgaria) and Igneada (Turkey). Currently, the Istanbul-Igneada-Mangalia-Bucharest section is fully operational and provides a total capacity of 8Tbps; in the next stage of the project, the Varna section of the system will be activated. The original KAFOS cable was deployed in 1997 and decommissioned in 2016.

A project for the construction of a new submarine cable linking continental Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands is currently underway, with cable construction expected to commence in the coming months. Local Source Primicias writes that the USD50 million project was initially expected to be finalised in May 2021, though its current RFS date is February 2022. The cable will stretch 1,280km and will link Manta (Ecuador) to three islands in the Galapagos – San Cristobal (Puerto Baquerizo), Santa Cruz (Puerto Ayora) and Isabela Island (Puerto General Villamil). The new cable will have an initial capacity of 10Gbps and a total design capacity of 4Tbps. The project is understood to be carried out by Galapagos Cable Systems.

Legion Telecom and RTI Connectivity (RTI) have announced the direct interconnection of Legion Telecom’s local fibre-optic network with the AUD35 million (USD27 million) Sunshine Coast International Broadband Submarine Cable (SCIBSC), establishing additional infrastructure within the Sunshine Coast Council’s Cable Landing Station adjacent to the new Maroochydore CBD. Richard Turnbull, Head of Technology and Innovation at Legion telecom, said: ‘We have committed to a 15-year agreement with RTI, enabling residents and businesses across the Sunshine Coast to use the international cable, effective immediately.’ Construction of the SCIBSC system – which connects to the Japan-Guam-Australia South (JGA-S) submarine cable – was completed in April 2020; the new cable extension lands at Maroochydore, situated around 100km north of Brisbane. Vertiv won the AUD6.6 million tender to design and build the cable landing station in December 2018, after pledging to use local contractors for the project.

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