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

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6 Jan 2023

The Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector has advised the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it has no objection to the FCC approving an application submitted by Google for the deployment of the Firmina submarine cable system in US territorial waters, provided that the approval is conditional on the commitments set forth in a Letter of Agreement (LOA) dated 30 November 2022. First announced in 2021, Firmina is a private, non-common carrier submarine fibre-optic cable aiming to connect the US, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. The system will comprise a main trunk from Myrtle Beach (South Carolina, US) to Las Toninas (Argentina), with two branching units (BUs) connecting branches to Praia Grande (Brazil) and Punta del Este (Uruguay). In addition, there are two planned BUs, one with a stubbed branch pointing towards Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic and another towards Fortaleza (Brazil). The main trunk will have a total length of 13,413km and will consist of 16 fibre pairs, while the branch to Praia Grande will comprise 24 fibre pairs (580km), Punta del Este (twelve fibre pairs, 524km), Puerto Rico/Dominican Republic (twelve fibre pairs) and Fortaleza (16 fibre pairs). Each fibre pair will have a total design capacity of approximately 15Tbps (for a total of approximately 240Tbps). Construction and installation of the cable was commissioned to US company SubCom, with a ready for service (RFS) date currently scheduled for late 2023.

Elsewhere, Uruguay’s President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou has also formally approved the installation of Google’s Firmina submarine cable system in the country. The President gave Google two years to present a plan to the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining (MIEM), detailing the actions to be carried out regarding the new submarine cable system. TeleGeography notes that Argentina’s National Communications Agency (Ente Nacional de Comunicaciones, ENACOM) approved the installation of Firmina in Argentine territorial waters in August 2022.

Morocco will be connected to the Medusa Submarine Cable System at the beginning of 2025, as part of an EU-backed strategic plan which will see the European Investment Bank (EIB) provide EUR100 million (USD105.7 million) to co-finance the submarine cable connection between a number of countries in North Africa and Southern Europe. As currently planned, the 8,760km Medusa is aiming to connect ten countries along the Mediterranean (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt) with 16 landing points. The cable will feature festoon architecture and will have segments with up to 24 fibre pairs with a capacity of 20Tbps per fibre pair. The system will be RFS at the end of 2024 for the West Med region and the first half of 2025 for the East Med region.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has initiated a discussion on the licensing framework and regulatory mechanism for submarine cable landing in India. The TRAI said that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) approached it, raising its concerns that some Indian International Long Distance Operators (ILDOs) that do not have any stakes in submarine cable systems are seeking clearance on behalf of the owners for laying or maintaining such cables in Indian territorial water or exclusive economic zones, and also for applying to set up Cable Landing Stations (CLS) for such submarine cables. Further, the regulator is seeking comments on submarine maintenance activities in and around Indian waters, deployment challenges and ways to overcome them to promote domestic submarine cables, issues related to establishing terrestrial connectivity between differently located CLS and ‘the benefits and challenges involved in laying stub-cables, a new concept of placing prelaid open-ended dark fibre from the CLS through Beach Manhole (BMH) into the territorial waters for upcoming new cables.’ TRAI has given interested parties until 30 January 2023 to submit their comments, while counter-comments will be accepted until 3 February 2023.

The Asia Pacific Gateway (APG) submarine cable system encountered a technical problem in late December 2022, impacting internet speeds in Vietnam. The issue was detected on the S6 cable section near the Hong Kong landing station. Meanwhile, repairs on the Asia Africa Europe 1 (AAE-1) and the Asia-America Gateway (AAG) Cable System submarine cable systems have yet to be completed so far. A shunt fault at the S1H cable section caused all the data on the AAE-1 line to be lost since the end of November 2022, while the AAG cable has encountered faults on certain sections since June.

Russian operator Atlas (backed by Rostelecom and VEB Ventures) has completed the deployment of the first segment of the fibre-optic backbone aiming to link the western and eastern borders of the Russian Federation, dubbed Transit Europe-Asia NEXT (TEA NEXT). The 560km network segment connects the town of Idritsa in the Pskov region with the town of Torzhok in the Tver region. The TEA NEXT project, first announced in June 2020, is aiming to link Kaliningrad with Sakhalin, with branches to the main cities of the Russian Federation along the route, namely: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Tyumen, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, Chita, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. The terrestrial network, estimated to cost USD500 million, will comprise 96 dark fibre cores (48 fibre pairs) and is expected to go live in 2024.

Lastly, Dark Fiber Africa (DFA) and Bandwidth and Cloud Services Group (BCS) have revealed that the first stage of their long-haul fibre backbone project – operated by their joint company Fibre Connections – has now been completed. This project is aimed at providing better connectivity between towns and cities across Zimbabwe, with plans to provide connectivity between all countries in the region going forward. Under the first phase of the project, a total of 1,180km of fibre stretching from Beitbridge to Victoria Falls has been deployed along the national rail tracks. The second phase of the project is estimated to cost USD18 million; it will commence in early 2023 and will extend the network with an additional 800km from Somabula to Harare via Gweru and from Bulawayo to Plumtree as well as from Harare to Mutare by mid-2023. The project will have three additional stages, which will see Zimbabwe interconnected with South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique.

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