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

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28 Jan 2022

Google and Facebook have been awarded a licence by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to construct, land and operate the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) system between the US, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The 11,806km PLCN submarine cable will comprise two fibre pairs with a design capacity of 24Tbps per fibre pair and will link El Segundo (California, US) with Toucheng (Taiwan) and Baler in the Philippines. The PLCN will have two branches off the main trunk: a branch from Branching Unit 1 that connects Fiber Pair 2 from the Main Trunk to Toucheng, Taiwan (the Taiwan Branch) with a total length of approximately 693km, and a branch from Branching Unit 2 that connects Fiber Pair 1 from the Main Trunk to Baler, Philippines (the Baler Branch) with a total length of approximately 678km. The Taiwan branch will be wholly-owned by Google Cable Bermuda, while the Baler Branch will be owned by Facebook’s affiliate Edge Network Services.

PTI Pacifica has filed an application for a Special Temporary Authority (STA) for the continued operation of the MTC Interisland Cable System (MICS) in the event the FCC does not grant its application (submitted in October 2021) to renew the MICS Cable licence for another 25-year term by 13 February 2022. The MICS cable links the three most populated islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) – Saipan, Tinian, and Rota – with each other and with the nearby US territory of Guam. MICS is a high capacity, fibre-optic system approximately 268km in length. MICS consists of twelve strands (six pairs of fibre) on all segments; system capacity has been upgraded three times since the cable went in service in 1997, with a current cumulative design capacity of 150Gbps. The MICS cable, including each of its CNMI cable landing points, is wholly-owned by PTI Pacifica. PTI Pacifica is seeking authority to operate the MICS cable on a non-common carrier basis, going forward.

Israeli telco Partner Communications is planning to build a 300km fibre-optic network connecting the Mediterranean Sea to Jordan, bypassing the Suez Canal. To that end, the company signed a new USD12.6 million deal with Tamares Telecom to deploy a terrestrial fibre network linking Haifa, on the Mediterranean Sea, with Eilat on the Red Sea and the Israel-Jordan King Hussein border crossing north of the Dead Sea. The infrastructure is expected to enter commercial operations in two years. Tamares Telecom will serve as an anchor tenant for the cable network.

AP&T Wireless (APTW), a subsidiary of Alaska Power & Telephone Company (AP&T), has revealed that the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Services (RUS) has provided the SEALink project with environmental clearance, thus authorising construction. Shortly after the RUS environmental approvals, APTW executed a contract with Norddeutsche Seekabelwerke, a German subsidiary of submarine cable manufacturer Prysmian Group, for the supply and installation of the submarine fibre-optic cable in 2022 – two years ahead of the project’s original schedule. The SEALink project will include the rollout of a 340km submarine fibre-optic cable from Prince of Wales Island (Petersburg) to Juneau, with an overland crossing on Mitkof Island through the community of Petersburg. The project will also comprise the deployment of local terrestrial networks which will provide high speed broadband access to all premises in Kasaan and Coffman Cove in Alaska by 2022. Construction is expected to commence in Mitkof Island in the coming weeks. In October 2020 APTW was selected to receive a USD21.545 million grant via the USDA Rural Utility Service’s ReConnect grant programme, while AP&T will provide over USD7 million in matching funds.

A public-private consortium – comprising AFR-IX telecom, the University of Alcala, the Institut de Ciencies del Mar (ICM-CSIC) and Aragon Photonics – has developed an intelligent monitoring system based on Distributed Acoustic Sensor (DAS) technology, which prevents cable damage by providing early warning of potentially damaging activities. AFR-IX telecom is facilitating the application of the DAS-based system on its Medusa Submarine Cable System, with the Barcelona Cable Landing Station (CLS) set to store the data collected in real time. The new cable will have a total length of 8,700km and will include 16 landing points in nine countries: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy, Algeria, Tunisia, Greece and Egypt. It will feature 24 fibre pairs with design capacity of 20Tbps per fibre pair. The cable system will be operated on an open access basis, subject to local regulations. All Medusa Atlantic and West Mediterranean landings will be installed and operational by 2024, while the East Mediterranean landings will be ready for service (RFS) by 2025.

Several faults have been reported on GCX’s FALCON submarine cable, affecting internet traffic in the Middle East and Africa. According to Arab Times, the first fault was located between Al Faw (Iraq) and Bandar Abbas (Iran) landing stations on 20 January, while a second issue between Dubai and Khasab (Oman) occurred previously but has not been repaired yet. Further, a series of airstrikes on a telecom hub in the port city of Al Hudaydah (Yemen), which acts as the landing point of the FALCON an SeaMeWe-5 cables in the country, plunged Yemen into a four-day blackout, though the damage was repaired on 24 January.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has revealed that it could take more than a month to repair the two cable faults in Tonga caused by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, as the closest cable repair ship is stationed in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The cable fault on the Tonga Cable was reportedly located between the TCL cable landing station in Sopu, Tongatapu and FINTEL cable landing station in Suva (Fiji), approximately 37km offshore from Tonga, while the Tonga Domestic Cable Extension (TDCE) was severed near the area of the recent volcanic activity, around 47km offshore. The 827km Tonga Cable between Tonga and Fiji (certified RFS in August 2013) interconnects with the Southern Cross Cable, while the 410km TDCE links Neiafu to Nuku’alofa and Pangai.

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Israel, Northern Mariana Islands, Philippines, Spain, Taiwan, Tonga, United States, AFR-IX telecom, Facebook, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Global Cloud Xchange (GCX, formerly Reliance Globalcom), Google (Alphabet), Partner Communications Company, Prysmian Group