What's NEXT for Southern Cross Cable Network?

24 May 2018 | Natalie Bannerman

Craige Sloots, director of marketing and sales at Southern Cross Cable Network, speaks to Capacity about the company’s NEXT project and the distinct regional differences of operating a subsea network in the Trans-Pacific region

Southern Cross Cable survey boat 680 width

Southern Cross’ NEXT cable is due to go live by the end of 2019 – what is driving the project? And what is its current status?

The Southern Cross NEXT project is driven by a number of strategic imperatives. The existing two Southern Cross cables, which went live in 2000, continue to be upgraded to meet short term capacity needs and will continue operation until at least 2030. The Southern Cross NEXT project is a 60-72Tbs system and is the first stage of a longer term overlay and replacement programme for the Southern Cross cables. Further by implementing the first stage of the programme over the next couple of years, allows Southern Cross a more efficient use of capital while also providing our customers with a unique three path ecosystem between Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and the United States increasing resiliency and mesh networking.

The project is proceeding well, with successful completion of our Marine Route survey, along with landing facilities in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and the successful completion of our marine tender. There is still much to do, but the project currently remains on track for an RFS target of end 2019 to early 2020.

At the start of the year, Southern Cross announced that Fiji International Telecommunications (Fintel) is investing $20 million in the NEXT cable. What was the significance of this announcement and what makes Fintel an ideal partner for this project?

Fintel has been a long-time partner with Southern Cross being a critical part of the existing Southern Cross cable system, and has grown as a hub for Pacific Island traffic over the last 10 years with the interconnection of other Pacific cables to Vanuatu, Tonga and Samoa. Fintel and Southern Cross were very keen to continue our strategic partnership with the Southern Cross NEXT project, and continue to assist Fiji as a growing communications hub in the Pacific Region. Fintel have had significant experience as a landing party for the existing system over the last 15 years, as well as performing the function for other Pacific cable systems as mentioned. Given our strong relationship and history, Fintel were a natural partner for us for the Southern Cross NEXT project.

As a operator of a subsea fibre network in the Trans-Pacific region, would you say that there’s big difference in the needs for capacity, speed, pricing etc., in comparison to say, Europe or North America? If so what?

Without a doubt the challenges are significantly different in our region of the world. While the fundamental drivers are the same for capacity and connectivity at reasonable costs, the vastly different populations in our region of the world compared to Asia-America and Europe-America routes, create significant differences in achievable scale. Given the long distances, and hence costs for construction and operation, for connectivity to the Southern Pacific regions, this creates many different economic challenges.

What unique opportunities are there in the subsea Trans-Pacific and how are Southern Cross capitalising on these opportunities?

Being significantly distant from key content centres in both America and Asia, means resiliency and redundancy of connectivity is critical. In our part of the world, in the event of a cable failure, it can take a cable ship two to three weeks for a cable ship to simply get to a repair site, let alone start the repair. The Pacific Ocean can also be a very unforgiving environment depending on the time of year. This can lead to a very long outage for your connectivity if you’re dependent on a single strand system. Southern Cross is unique in the region, and one of the few in the world, where we operate a fully redundant dual cable system forming an effective ring between our access points in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii and Australia. Our protected services operate with a 99.999% availability as we are able to move traffic flexibly to the other side of the system in the event of cable break, something simply unachievable with a single strand system.

The implementation of the Southern Cross NEXT cable route will expand this ecosystem to three diverse routes further increasing resiliency to our customers, as well as connecting as number of Pacific Islands which have not had access to submarine fibre connectivity previously, offering them enormous potential.

How do you think the investment of OTT’s has effected the subsea cable market? Are we seeing the end of the operator dominated cable consortium?

The OTTs are clearly driving significant demand, particularly in those Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic routes mentioned earlier, to the extent that some of them are driving new cable builds. So I think in some places you are already seeing the end of the traditional telco operator dominated consortium. I would expect this to continue and likely increase along key backbone routes as they continue to try and seamlessly and cost effectively mesh their major regional data centres, with traditional telcos becoming off takers of the OTT led systems. However all markets are not the same, and not all routes represent 'backbone’ routes to the OTTs, and so I believe you will also continue to see telco driven initiatives in these regions with the OTT’s continuing to be off takers where it is cost effective.

What are your thoughts on the increasing number of cable projects forgoing the cable landing station and connecting directly into the data centre? Is this only in developed markets or it is a general trend you see in your region as well?

The move to content centre, or point of presence (PoP), or city to city, connectivity for submarine cables has been occurring for a while and is a natural change as the majority of traffic is driven from content connectivity. It is only natural that as content continues to contract into major data centres, and connectivity between these major content centres grows in importance, that submarine cables (and domestic backbone routes) will similarly evolve to service such data centre connectivity. It certainly is a development that we see in our region, and over the last 6 years, Southern Cross has spread its footprint such that we can now service connectivity directly into key data locations such as Equinix data centres in Sydney, Palo Alto and Los Angeles, CoreSite data centres in San Jose and Los Angeles, as well as the Westin Building Exchange in Seattle.

Beyond the NEXT cable, what’s the future roadmap for Southern Cross? Any plans or strategies for growth?

The Southern Cross NEXT cable will certainly keep us busy for a while, but as mentioned the longer term strategic plan plans for Southern Cross NEXT-2 to complete the overlay, and eventual replacement of the existing Southern Cross systems by 2030. In the short term, we continue to implement new technologies for capacity expansion on the existing systems, with a potential capability across the two systems currently of about 24Tbs or effectively the equivalent of 100 Southern Cross cable systems based on their original design capacity. We also continue to review the market and our product set, with innovations such as our new Ethernet MPLS based services and bandwidth on demand services developed to meet customer needs. We will continue to watch how the market changes, and review options for developments to continue to meet these needs.

Topics: Craige Sloots, Southern Cross Cable Network, NEXT, Australia, New Zealand, Fintel, Fiji International Telecommunications, fibre, OTT