06 January 2018
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As the SEA-ME-WE 5 subsea cable hits its first anniversary, the consortium reflects on how its flexible approach has helped open up the telecommunications market
Right from the start, the SEA-ME-WE
5 cable showed its potential. Straight after going live a year
ago, it started to become loaded with heavy traffic –
indicating the need for this type of system on that
Dubbed by the 19-member strong consortium that runs the
20,000km cable as a "matchless, PoP-to-PoP, multi-regional data
superhighway", the network was completed last December. It
connects 17 countries across three continents, from the Far
East and on through South Asia and the Middle East to Western
Europe. It represents the fifth generation of a series of
intercontinental cable systems that began in 1985.
The strong group of members behind SEA-ME-WE 5 has already
delivered positive results over the past year. "The system has
helped alleviate the dependence on existing cables, and allowed
greater voice and data traffic between regions. The project has
been a success story right from its inception and continues to
make headlines in the industry," says Abdullah Alsamhan,
chairman of the management committee at SEA-ME-WE 5.
Designed with the latest upgradeable 100Gbps DWDM
technology, Alsamhan says SEA-ME-WE 5 provides the "highest
quality" voice, data and internet traffic, with minimal
transmission delay. The flexibility and scalability of the
network, as well as its ability to be remotely configured, have
also helped to keep opex down, he says.
In addition, the cable has provided much-needed extra
capacity between regions. "SEA-ME-WE 5 has eased the strain on
the heavily loaded networks that connect Western Europe, the
Middle East, East Africa and Southeast Asia," says Alsamhan,
"as well as offering an extra layer of network and further
enhancing the diversity and resilience to the heavily loaded
Asia-Middle East-Europe route."
Aside from this, there has been a massive surge in demand
for capacity in burgeoning global markets such as countries in
the Far East, creating a growing need for extra capacity
options. SEA-ME-WE 5 also offers major cross-connection
possibilities with other submarine cables in countries such as
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and Sri Lanka – creating
the promise of many exciting opportunities.
And on top of all that, latency on the new network has
dropped by tens of milliseconds compared with earlier SEA-ME-WE
networks between major end points. For instance, between
Singapore and Marseille the latency has significantly improved
compared with the previous network from 163 to 135ms, and
between Singapore and Palermo from 148 to 124ms. Such key
improvements offer a significant edge in a highly competitive
Flexible and open
One of SEA-ME-WE 5’s key differentiators has
been its highly flexible and open nature, with the provision of
easy access to carrier-neutral international points of presence
(PoPs) through fully protected terrestrial extensions from
cable landing stations onward to these destinations in
Marseille and in Singapore, as well as a carrier-neutral PoP in
This means the core network is terminated in major PoPs and
virtual meet-me rooms rather than in landing stations, allowing
cross-connects with other cable systems and interconnection
between carriers in a competitive environment. It also further
boosts competition by offering a greater choice of capacity
providers than has traditionally been available on submarine
cable systems, with the ability to buy from various operators
rather than just the landing-station owner.
"A major thing that makes SEA-ME-WE 5 different to many
other cables is that this is a real PoP-to-PoP system," says
Alsamhan. This means it gives members a kind of free choice on
where they would like to terminate their capacity in the core
system. Consortium members can also drop traffic where they
like along the network, including in any branches, based on
bilateral agreements between parties. This offers a high level
of flexibility in terms of where consortium members use their
capacity entitlement across the system.
At launch of the system, about 100 x 100G waves were lit on
the network in all PoPs in Singapore, in Palermo and in
Marseille from different stations. The second light-up for the
network is now under way and is set for completion around March
2018, increasing the number of initially lit waves by 75 WLs in
all PoPs from different cable stations in those locations, in
line with increased intensive usage.
Most of the consortium members have activated a high
proportion of their lit capacities, says Alsamhan. Meanwhile,
planned ongoing light-ups of the system are expected to make it
more cost-effective for all consortium members and even more
SEA-ME-WE 5 had an initial design capacity of 24Tbps, which
is easy to upgrade by deploying the most advanced transmission
technology such as 200G SLTEs, because the smart design of the
network is able to quickly adopt any new transponder
technology. Some parties have already used a high percentage of
their capacity from year one, says Alsamhan.
All in all, he says, the system has established itself as
highly flexible, through facets such as its reach into
carrier-neutral PoPs and its cross-connection possibilities.
"All these flexibilities have led to faster and higher system
utilisation, and provide diversity and resilience," says
Alsamhan. It is also well-placed to meet the high level of
demand created by digitisation. This is important given the
huge rise in use of services and applications in areas such as
the internet of things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M)
The SEA-ME-WE 5 PoPs in Marseille and Palermo hold the
promise of access to high-class connectivity to major European
cities, as well as interconnection opportunities with major
transatlantic and West African cables.
Meanwhile, aside from the major markets, an increasing
number of waves have been lit up at other ends of SEA-ME-WE 5,
such as new access points to Europe in Marmaris in Turkey and
Djibouti in Africa. These offer interesting alternative options
to landing stations in the traditional major markets.
The access point in Turkey effectively provides a third
route into Europe from the hotspots of Italy and France. For
players seeking to target locations away from markets such as
London and Frankfurt, and plot a path through up-and-coming
markets in regions such as Central and Eastern Europe, this
offers a shorter route.
In turn, the submarine pathway offered by SEA-ME-WE 5
provides redundancy for certain terrestrial routes –
which is important given that earthquakes can present a hazard
along some of these, leading to potential cuts.
Indeed, this avoidance of natural hazards was also built
into the design of the cable’s pathway. "The
SEA-ME-WE 5 cable route was deliberately designed to avoid
areas prone to earthquakes and other hazardous areas," says
Alsamhan. The result, he says, has been that the cable has
encountered fewer subsea faults than otherwise – with
the good histories of previous SEA-ME-WE cables on similar
routes providing further reassurance.
Meanwhile, the network itself uses technology that provides
extra layers of protection against potential faults and
problems. This ROADM technology protects the core against cable
cuts on the branches of the network, with the ability to enable
flexible rerouting of waves between the core and the branches.
So combined with the deliberate positioning of the cable in a
relatively secure area, this offers even more of a defence
against potential issues.
And not only does the technology help with these kinds of
issues, but it enables the consortium to efficiently utilise
the fibre spectrum. "Using ROADMs, SEA-ME-WE 5 members can
quickly alter the branch’s capacity into the core
and vice versa, as needed," points out Alsamhan.
As a professionally managed project that has kept to all the
deadlines and expenses within its planned budget, SEA-ME-WE 5
won the Best Subsea Project award in 2016. The cable also won
the Best Subsea Innovation award in 2017 for being one of the
most ambitious and successful cable projects, applying the most
innovative technology to connect three continents (Asia, Europe
Apart from the clear advantages of the cable already
outlined, the appearance of SEA-ME-WE 5 has also been a boon
for the telecoms market in that it has led to a "tremendous"
price drop for capacity.
Competition will be even further enhanced as other cable
systems get a foothold in the market too. This type of
competition between major cables will be healthy for the future
of the industry, helping to not only further improve prices,
but also the quality of networks as that becomes an ever more
important factor in gaining an edge.
The make-up of the consortium behind the SEA-ME-WE 5 cable,
meanwhile, certainly provides plentiful reassurance and the
promise of reliability for those looking to make use of the
network. This is because it involves team members who are major
players in the industry and have a track record of delivering
results through the successful completion of previous
large-scale and complex SEA-ME-WE projects. These parties have
provided strong commitment and support for the new cable,
driving towards getting it up and running and spurring
"The system has successfully relied on a strong commitment
and partners in all regions, proven financial stability and
recognised technical know-how from its consortium members,"
says Alsamhan. These are all qualities that without doubt offer
promise for the future, given that the foundation of a strong,
robust, reliable cable will always be the team behind it.
The 19 SEA-ME-WE 5 member
Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited (BSCCL), China
Mobile International (CMI), China Telecom Global (CTG), China
United Network Communications Group Company Limited (CU),
Djibouti Telecom, Emirates Integrated Telecommunications
Company (du), Myanmar Post and Telecom (MPT), Ooredoo, Orange,
PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia International (Telin), Saudi
Telecom Company (STC), Singapore Telecommunications Ltd
(Singtel), Sparkle, Sri Lanka Telecom PLC (SLT), Telecom Egypt
(TE), Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM), TeleYemen, Turk Telekom
International (TTI) and Trans World Associates (Pvt) Limited