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Five Wins That Show Four Key Trends in Submarine Networks Today

portrait of Geoff Bennett

March 30, 2023
By Geoff Bennett
Director, Solutions & Technology

In the past couple of weeks I’ve attended two conferences – first I went to Capacity Middle East in Dubai, and then, since I was halfway there already, I carried on to SubOptic in Bangkok. SubOptic is a dedicated subsea conference, and while Capacity shows are normally quite varied in their target audience, the Middle East lies at the crossroads for international telecommunications – especially in terms of the sheer number of submarine cables passing through the region.

The subsea market is incredibly active at the moment and has been for several years. TeleGeography reports that international bandwidth is almost doubling every two years, and this is reflected in the new cable deployments like Equiano and 2Africa in and around Africa, as well as significant upgrades to cables that span multiple regions, such as AAE-1.

At Infinera, we’ve also issued a flurry of subsea-related press releases recently, and I think these serve to exemplify many of the trends that are happening across the industry. I’d like to take you through the latest five of these projects to highlight their important points.

EXA Infrastructure Deploys Infinera’s ICE6 Across New Low-latency Trans Adriatic Express

EXA is one of the largest wholesale carriers in the world, and they own significant dark fiber assets across Europe, as well as operate a wholesale multi-service network platform and multiple data centers. Trans Adriatic Express (TAE) is a submarine cable system linking EXA’s current European footprint to Turkey via Albania and Greece. A key advantage of this cable is the ability to shorten the traditional path from the Far East into Europe, which usually passes through the Mediterranean Sea to Marseilles, and then on into France and the rest of Europe. Shorter paths mean lower latency for services that are increasingly intended to deliver superior response times.

For this project, EXA selected Infinera’s ICE6 solution, which is now widely acknowledged as the highest-performing optical engine on the market today. It has the added benefit of offering the shortest lead times too.

Key trend: Shorter (lower-latency) and alternative routes from Asia to Europe

Hawaiki – Extra Performance on Long-distance Routes

Hawaiki is a trans-Pacific cable system stretching over 15,000 km and connecting Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa, Hawaii, and the U.S. West Coast, and it was brought into service in July 2018. It is an uncompensated cable, designed for coherent transmission.

Cables like Hawaiki were designed for very high optical performance, and they enable the latest transponders like Infinera’s ICE6 to really show what they can do. The latest transponders can get very close to the theoretical spectral efficiency limit for an optical fiber – sometimes dubbed the Shannon limit (although that’s technically inaccurate as Shannon was working with linear communication media). The “gap to Shannon” is the difference between this theoretical maximum and the actual performance of the latest transponders. To date, each transponder generation has been able to take advantage of additional ASIC processing power to implement more sophisticated transmission techniques and close the gap still further.

Key trend: Squeezing the gap to Shannon on high-performance submarine cables

SEACOM – New Cables to Africa

The continent of Africa is enjoying a massive increase in submarine connectivity, with cables such as PEACE, 2Africa, Africa-1, Raman, Medusa, IEX, SEA-ME-WE 6, and, of course, Equiano rolling out over the next year or so. Equiano is named after the Nigerian writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, and the cable runs from Portugal to South Africa – a distance of around 15,000 km. SEACOM had the goal to be the first operator to go live on the Equiano cable, and they were extremely happy with the performance of ICE6 as well as its short lead times. As part of the service available to wholesale and enterprise clients from March, SEACOM will offer an express route from Cape Town to Lisbon. This means clients will enjoy high-speed connectivity without having their data rerouted to other countries during transmission.

Key trend: Massive new capacity into Africa

AJC – The Asset That Keeps On Giving

One of the common themes at both conferences was the fact that the time required for new cable permits is getting longer and longer. This means that it’s more important than ever to squeeze the maximum economic life from existing cables. The Australia-Japan Cable (AJC) is a 12,700-km cable system that, as the name would suggest, connects Australia and Japan via Guam, and was ready for service (RFS) in December 2001. AJC already uses Infinera’s ICE4 technology, but we were excited to have the opportunity to use the cable as a testbed for our next-generation optical engine algorithms. To be clear, this isn’t a prototype – it’s an offline test rig that captures the signal, which is then fed into a powerful graphics processing unit (GPU). By using the GPU, it’s possible to adjust the way algorithms work in a way that’s just not possible once they have been burned into silicon. The result was 17% greater fiber pair capacity than is possible with the latest-generation ICE6 transponders – which are already acknowledged as the highest-performing optical engines available today.

Unity – Doubling Capacity in a Mid-life Boost

Unity was RFS in 2010, was one of the last dispersion-managed cables to be built across the Pacific, and had an initial design capacity of 96 10 Gb/s wavelengths, or 960 Gb/s per fiber pair (7.68 Tb/s for all eight fiber pairs). It stretches for 9,620 km and provides a direct connection between Japan and the U.S. Around the Asia Pacific region, the time required for new cable permits has risen dramatically over the past few years, for multiple reasons, including environmental issues and geopolitics. As a result, it is more important than ever to extend the economic life of all existing submarine cables. Using Infinera’s ICE6 transponders, Unity has estimated a doubling of capacity, leading to a 25% increase in the lifespan of the cable, with each fiber pair now capable of delivering up to 7.4 Tb/s of capacity.

Key trend for AJC and Unity: New cable permit delays and unrelenting capacity growth drive the need to extend the economic life of legacy cables with advanced transponder upgrades

It’s clear that submarine network capacity is continuing to grow, and ICE6 offers the ultimate performance of any transponder available today. In the next few weeks, I’ll be talking more about how new submarine cable designs will scale to meet those capacity needs. But with these five projects, Infinera has shown our ability to deliver an outstanding return on investment on existing submarine cable systems of all ages.

For more details on how ICE6 can maximize the performance of your subsea cable, download the Infinera application note, ICE6 for Submarine Networks.