Subsea at a Glance
Network infrastructures are under tremendous pressure as exploding Internet traffic volumes consume bandwidth capacity fast. To maneuver this challenging landscape, subsea operators must also evolve to stay relevant in order to capitalize on the new digital opportunities. RCOM/GCX Review catches up with Brad Kneller, Vice President, Global Network Operations, Global Cloud Xchange, to talk about challenges and exciting new technologies impacting the subsea sector.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FACING SUBSEA OPERATORS AS THE WORLD MOVES INTO THE CLOUD AGE AND THE INTERNET OF THINGS EVOLVES?
To not think or act solely as a subsea operator. Technology is evolving quickly and bandwidth demands continue to soar as a result of Cloud and IoT. The subsea network is key as we bring our Cloud services to market. We need to continue driving down our operational costs to ensure bandwidth remains affordable. To achieve this, GCX is looking at new go-to-market approaches like cost-sharing opportunities as well as traditional sales of infrastructure space, power, fiber, spectrum, etc. Additionally, as we see new players entering the market with limited subsea experience we have an opportunity to offer outsourcing and professional services to these new cable owners. As owner and operator of the world’s largest private subsea infrastructure, we are well-positioned to deliver on this opportunity to further enhance offerings for our customers.
BANDWIDTH DEMANDS ARE EVER-GROWING. WHAT TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES OR INNOVATIONS ARE COMING IN THE SUBSEA WORLD TO MEET THE DEMAND?
There will be pressure in both access and core networks. New access networks will evolve using technologies like Narrowband IoT and 5G. In the core, Dense Wave Division Multiplexing “DWDM” will continue to underpin subsea networks for years to come. In fact, subsea is ahead of the game with ongoing advances in fiber and signal amplification technology. As an example of the rate of progress, during my eight years at GCX, the capacity per channel (wavelength) on a subsea network has increased from 10Gbps to 40Gbps to 100Gbps. Trials for 200Gps and 400Gbps per channel systems are currently taking place and this upward trend will continue for the foreseeable future.
HOW HAVE CHALLENGES LIKE CABLE OUTAGES CHANGED OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS?
The impact of cable system outages has changed significantly over the past 10 years. I recall the days when the loss of a trans-Atlantic cable would see the world go mad; guys working 36 hours non-stop managing customers, processing restoration requests and/or re-routing services across different cable systems and capacity. In contrast, we recently had an outage on one of our cables and received only one 10G restoration request. Nowadays, customer networks are based more on self-healing IP (packet-based) networks and resilient topologies with risk spread over multiple subsea cables which provide added assurance on network reliability. Having said that, in some regions the opportunity to diversify is limited so we need to ensure our network operations is always ready to support customers under all circumstances.
ARE THERE ANY ADVANCES EXPECTED TO MAKE SUBSEA NETWORKS EVEN MORE RELIABLE?
The two biggest factors that impact reliability are the frequency of cable cuts and the time to repair. “Other marine users” remain the primary cause of cable cuts (typically through fishing or anchoring activities) and we are successfully using systems such as AIS to warn ships that attempt to fish or anchor near our cable. Time to repair is dependent upon the availability of a maintenance vessel and the permits required for the vessel to operate within a country’s territorial waters, which is a huge variable dependent upon where in the world we need a repair. As an example, for a recent repair off the Egyptian coast, separate permits were required from 13 different government departments before work could commence. Efforts are being made to make governments aware of these issues through industry bodies such as the International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC), UK Cable Protection Committee (UKCPC) and NASCA in the US and we have found that governments take notice when major outages (affecting multiple cables) occurs. As an industry, we continue to push for a much more focused effort in this area.
AS BILLIONS OF INTERNET USERS COME ONLINE IN THE EMERGING MARKETS, WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING SUBSEA OPERATORS AS THEY CONNECT HERE?
There is a wide range of challenges including environment, weather and socio-political factors. Unlike in developed markets (i.e., US and Europe), the Emerging Markets can be difficult in terms of terrain, infrastructure or onward connectivity and backhaul networks. Then you have the weather. The weather systems are so variable and extreme such as the extreme heat in the Middle East. And finally you have socio-political factors like regulatory environments. In many of the countries that are, or will experience the Internet explosion, the telecoms markets are very heavily regulated. That makes it a very complex and often slow process to bring up the bandwidth and international connectivity the population demands. That’s often where GCX comes in.
We have a network spanning 285,000 route km from India across the globe; nine world-class data centers in India; and a revolutionary CLOUD X portfolio. We are well-positioned to serve the Internet explosion in the Middle East and Asia, including India and China.