Sunken treasure: Submarine cables provide crucial link in worldwide edge ecosystem

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Sunken treasure: Submarine cables provide crucial link in worldwide edge ecosystem

As the world’s data deluge continues at astronomical levels, the importance of the vast interconnected cloud and carrier partner ecosystem transporting that data cannot be overstated. From data centers to cloud service providers to wireless and wireline network providers, each player in this communication chain plays a significant role in moving data around the globe. But none, perhaps, holds a more pivotal role than subsea cables. With 95 percent of international internet traffic flowing through cables laid on the ocean floor, these underwater links are literally connecting the world and are the most critical endpoints in an organization’s edge networking strategy.

Subsea cable and data center growth go hand in hand

Powered by fiber optic technology encased in tubing, subsea cables serve as underwater connection corridors that transmit data between land masses and continents at lightning-fast speeds. Underwater cables connect with land-based network infrastructure at landing stations that feed into carrier hotels.

Carrier hotels are the Grand Central Stations of interconnectivity, housing network infrastructure for a plethora of telecom and IT service providers and are generally regarded as among the most highly interconnected of data center locations. Many of these carrier hotels are located at the edge of major population centers to allow data exchange between businesses and end users at the edge, often referred to as edge data centers.

Edge data centers have become a must-have for major corporations. By choosing data centers geographically located as close as possible to its endpoints (i.e., the edge), businesses benefit from lower latency and faster processing times, resulting in improved overall experiences. Put simply, the shorter the distance an organization’s data must travel to users, the faster it can reach its desired audience.

Industry experts say more edge data centers are needed. Market trends reflect the burgeoning need. According to research firm Statista, the global edge computing market is expected to reach $12 billion in U.S. dollars by 2028, up from $3 billion in 2020.  That global growth is good news for subsea cable operators, and will also require more edge data centers to meet demand.

As of early 2023, there are more than 378 submarine cables comprising nearly 1.4 million km (869,919 miles) in service globally, according to research firm TeleGeography. TeleGeography also states that more than $10 billion in new subsea cable investments are expected to enter service through 2024.

Demand drivers

Continued growth in internet use, including mobile phones and Internet of Things (IoT) devices are among the factors fueling surging demand and driving rapid expansion in data transmission.

Statistics tell the story.  According to research firm Statista, as of January 2023, there were 5.16 billion internet users worldwide, representing 64.4 percent of the global population. The number of mobile users worldwide is projected to reach 7.49 billion by 2025, while the number of IoT devices worldwide is expected to exceed 29 billion IoT devices by 2030.

This trend is reflected in the increasing investment in subsea cables along with edge data centers. The two are interdependent since many edge data centers house the termination or landing points for the subsea cables necessary to support the growing demand for data exchange.

The subsea cable market remains dynamic, according to industry insiders. Recent investment trends are outlined in TeleGeography’s 2023 Submarine Cable Map, which charts 529 cable systems and 1,444 landings that are currently active or under construction.

TeleGeography notes that content providers, like Amazon, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, are taking a more active role in the submarine cable market. Having accounted for less than 10% of total usage prior to 2012, content providers’ share of total capacity surged to 71% in 2022, according to TeleGeography. Google alone has six privately-owned cable systems either live or in development and 19 that the conglomerate has invested in overall.

Although subsea cables now have been deployed across every global route grouping, there is still room for substantial growth. For example, in China, the world’s second-largest economy, the submarine cable market is forecast to reach a projected market size of $8.4 billion in US dollars by the year 2030 trailing a CAGR of 12.4% over the analysis period 2022 to 2030.

Some major recent and planned subsea cable deployments include:

Canada to U.S.

Crosslake Fibre built the only Ontario cross-lake, underwater, high-count and fiber-optic cable, connecting vital financial and technology markets in Toronto, Canada to both New York and Chicago. Most recently, the company announced a partnership with Cologix, a leading network-neutral interconnection and data center company, to deploy in Cologix’s TOR1 digital edge facility, Canada’s largest carrier hotel.

The agreement enables customers to transmit data via the Lake Ontario underwater cable, which is the fastest, most direct route from Toronto to New York and Chicago. This partnership will help to address the growing demand for additional fiber capacity prompted by Toronto’s technology boom. Major technology companies have set up offices there and the area is positioned to be the next Silicon Valley.

According to the 2022 Tech-30 report by CBRE (Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis), Toronto had the second fastest high-tech job growth in 2020 and 2021 combined, among the 30 leading technology markets in the U.S. and Canada.

Canada and Asia

Google’s Topaz will be the first-ever subsea fiber cable to connect Canada and Asia. Once complete, Topaz will run from Vancouver to the small town of Port Alberni on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and across the Pacific Ocean to the prefectures of Mie and Ibaraki in Japan. The cable is to be ready for service later this year. It will not only deliver low-latency access to Search, Gmail, YouTube and Google Cloud, but also other Google services that increase capacity to the region for a variety of network operators in both Japan and Canada, according to Google Cloud.

Europe

Orange recently landed Google’s 6,600 km (4,101 miles) transatlantic Dunant cable at the refurbished Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez station in France and announced that it has joined a partnership on the AMITIÉ cable, which will connect Massachusetts to le Porge near Bordeaux in France. Other members of the consortium include Meta, Vodafone, Microsoft and Aqua Comms, according to TeleGeography’s submarine cable map. The project is slated to go live in Q2 of 2023.

Latin America

Meta, in partnership with GlobeNet, a leading wholesale telecom service provider in Latin America, has launched Malbec, a 2,500 km (1,553 mile) subsea cable that connects the Brazilian cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In the future, it also will connect Porto Alegre, Brazil to Buenos Aires. The cable landing station based in Las Toninas, Province of Buenos Aires, is operated by GlobeNet’s subsidiary in Argentina. Malbec provides much-needed improvements in both capacity and reliability for Argentina, according to a Meta statement. The cable will reportedly increase Internet penetration in Argentina by 6 percent and in Brazil by 3 percent.

U.S. – United Kingdom – Spain

Google’s Grace Hopper subsea cable – named after the computing pioneer – runs    between the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain. The 6115 km (3,800 mile) cable will provide better resilience for the network that underpins Google’s consumer and enterprise products, according to a company announcement. The cable went live in 2022.

Central and South America to U.S. (Jacksonville, FL)

Two submarine cable systems interconnect with the Cologix JAX1 digital edge data center in Jacksonville, FL, enabling direct fiber access to Central and South America. The PCCS and AMX-1 subsea cable systems have points of presence (PoPs) at the JAX 1 data center, connecting the facility to 19 cable landing points across 10 countries, or 23,500 km (14,500 miles) of fiber optic subsea cable. Leveraging Jacksonville, one of the most interconnected hubs in Florida, as a network node allows customers to create an express route to South America without traversing through Miami, which reduces costs, latency and weather-related risk.

It’s easy to see that, as data transmission needs continue to grow, subsea cables – along with data centers at the edge – will remain a critical part of supporting the high-capacity data traffic necessary to accommodate the world’s growing thirst for data.

About the author

Peg Hallberg is head of product for Cologix, a carrier and cloud-neutral hyperscale edge data center provider. Hallberg’s previous experience includes being director of product and solutions marketing at Flexential (formerly ViaWest) and other senior marketing leadership roles at companies such as Charter Communications and Level3.

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