Monday, January 29, 2018

New cables add to transatlantic subsea capacity essential to operators

by James E. Carroll

Much new and needed subsea capacity is going into Atlantic waters this year. This new capacity will be essential to Internet Content Providers, public cloud companies, and mobile operators as they push into 5G.

2018 opened with the unveiling of HAFVRUE (mermaid in Danish), a massive subsea cable project that will link New Jersey to the Jutland Peninsula of Denmark with a branch landing in County Mayo, Ireland. Optional branch extensions to Northern and Southern Norway are also included in the design.

The Mermaid cable has a theoretical design capacity of 108 Tbps, which will make it one of the high-capacity subsea cables ever built. TE Subcom has been signed as the system supplier for HAVFRUE. The construction contract is now in force and the marine survey is underway. A ready-for-service date is promised in Q4 2019 – less than 24 months away. The HAVFRUE subsea cable system will be optimized for coherent transmission and will offer a cross-sectional cable capacity of 108Tbps, scalable to higher capacities utilizing future generation SLTE technology.

What is most interesting about the Mermaid project is the diverse membership of the consortium, especially the inclusion of Facebook, Aqua Comms and Bulk Infrastructure as key members.

Perhaps it's not too surprising to see Facebook on this list, even though they must be one of biggest owners of transatlantic bandwidth at the moment. After all, Facebook, along with Microsoft, is co-owner or the newly commissioned MAREA cable system, which spans 6,600 km from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Bilbao, Spain.  The MAREA cable has a record 160 Tbps design capacity using eight fibre pairs.  However, MAREA takes a more southern route than other transatlantic cables, which mostly connect northern Europe to the New York/New Jersey region.  MAREA’s Virginia landing makes a good connection point to Facebook’s 160-acre data centre campus in Forest City, North Carolina.  Perhaps there are plans for a Facebook data centre in southern Europe, given that the company’s current European facilities are all north. The social media giant famously activated its first European data centre in in 2013 in Lulea, a city on the coast of northern Sweden, where the sub-Arctic climate and cheap hydroelectricity were seen as especially advantageous. In January 2016, Facebook selected Clonee (a suburb of Dublin), Ireland as the location for its second data centre in Europe. (Facebook’s international headquarter has been in Ireland since 2009).  One year later, in January 2017, Facebook announced its selection of Odense, Denmark as the location for its third European data centre. The company said Denmark was chosen for its robust Nordic electric grid, access to fiber, access to renewable power, and a great set of collaborative community partners. Renewal energy is expected to account for 100% of electricity needs.

Given these two new data centres in Ireland and Denmark, it makes sense that Facebook would invest in a new transatlantic cable landing in these two countries.

For Aqua Comms, which is a young, subsea cable operator based in Dublin, the new HAVFRUE cable also adds to its growing existing transatlantic portfolio. It was only two years ago, in January 2016, that Aqua Comms’ AEConnect Cable System went into operation. The AEConnect cable spans more than 5,400 km across the Atlantic between Long Island, NY and  Killala, County Mayo, on the west coast of Ireland.  Its design capacity is 130 Tbps, or 130 wavelength services at 100Gbps per fibre pair. Aqua Comms’ first cable project was CeltixConnect, a 72-fibre pair subsea cable connecting Ireland and the UK that entered service in January 2012.

With this new HAVFRUE cable, Aqua Comms has been appointed system operator and landing party in the U.S., Ireland, and Denmark. The company plans market and sell capacity services and raw spectrum on its portion of the HAVFRUE cable system under the brand name America Europe Connect-2 (AEC-2).  Aqua Comms will also commission a new cable route to Denmark through the UK, developing CeltixConnect-2, which connects Dublin to Manchester, as well as the North Sea Connect cable that will link Stellium’s data centre in Newcastle, England, to Esbjerg, Denmark.
The new HAVFRUE cable not only adds capacity for Aqua Comms, it also enables the company to create a resilient, ring-based infrastructure between the East Coast of the U.S., Ireland, and Northern Europe that is especially attuned to hyperscale cloud companies needing dozens of 100G transatlantic circuits in the years ahead.

A subsea alliance for Europe to South America

In the south Atlantic, Seaborne Networks has been building a new generation of subsea cables. In September 2017, Seaborn activated its Seabras-1 direct subsea system between New York and São Paulo while bypassing the hurricane-prone areas of Florida, the Caribbean and Bermuda.. The new Seabras-1 submarine cable, which spans 10,600-km,, has multiple branching units and is designed to provide additional route diversity to Virginia Beach, Miami, St. Croix, Fortaleza, and Rio de Janeiro. Seaborne is planning a new direct subsea system between Brazil - Argentina (RFS Q4 2018); and SABR, a new subsea system between Cape Town, South Africa and Seabras-1 (RFS 2019).

Interestingly, Seaborn and Aqua Comms have just announced a strategic alliance to provide subsea connectivity between South America and Europe.  This looks to integrate Seaborn’s Seabras-1 subsea cable system now directly interconnects with Aqua Comms’ America-Europe Connect (AEConnect) subsea cable network. The two submarine cable systems will interconnect in Secaucus, New Jersey, in the location of Seaborn’s primary network operations centre.

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