€700m Arctic cable ‘to get backing’ to speed Asia-Europe links

19 June 2018 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

The Finnish government and business supporters are expected to give their backing for a subsea cable project that will link Europe to Japan and China across the Arctic Ocean.

Details will be presented at a broadband summit to be held by the Arctic Economic Council next Wednesday and Thursday in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido.

A number of key cable industry executives will be taking part in the meeting in Sapporo, where the projected cable will land before continuing to China.

Jukka-Pekka Joensuu, an advisor to the Cinia subsea cable company in Finland, told Capacity that the scope of the cable project may be even wider – a three-continent system, connecting North America to Asia as well as Europe.

The new cable will have a latency between Tokyo and Frankfurt of "less than 170ms", said Joensuu. "It represents a breakthrough in the Arctic. It would be a very, very important development for global communications."

Suvi Lindén, a former Finnish telecoms minister who now chairs data centre company NxtVn’s operation in Finland, told Capacity: "The funding is not the issue but finding the right kind of balance between the players is the challenge."

She added: "Hokkaido had made earlier a strategy to become the international data hub because of the cool weather [and] cheaper land but unfortunately they had only one cable to Russia and the others to Tokyo – so no connectivity and base to create an international hub but now the situation is completely different."

Global warming has steadily been melting the ice in the Arctic, making it feasible to lay a subsea cable across the ocean and to maintain it. The US government’s National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported last week that the "Arctic sea ice extent for May 2018 was the second lowest in the satellite record".

According to the NSIDC there was more open water in the Arctic Ocean that used to be the case. "By the end of the month, the north and west coasts of [the Norwegian Arctic island of] Svalbard were largely ice-free" and the temperature was 6°C above normal. Later in the summer, there will be even more open water.

Joensuu told Capacity that the plan to lay a cable "is a private project with support from various governments". He said that China, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Russia were involved in the scheme as well as Finland. "It is of course a very important and big project. In China it is very much in favour."

Lindén said: "The cable is commercial but I think that without the Finnish government’s strong commitment to get things going there would be no cable. The time is right now and the cable is much needed."

Quintillion AlaskaJoensuu and his team are also "working with US companies very closely", he confirmed. He refused to announce any names and would not say whether or not Alaska-based Quintillion (see map, left) was involved. Quintillion already has a subsea cable in operation around the north and west coasts of Alaska and has long spoken of plans to extend westwards to Japan and east through Canada’s islands and the North Atlantic to the UK.  

Seppo Ihalainen, managing director and co-founder of Finnish data centre company Ficolo, told Capacity: "This cable will make Finland the closest place in Europe to Asia." He is aiming his data centres at Asian companies, he said. "When they come to Europe, Finland will be the first place to come."

Olof Exell, a partner in Hanko Data Parks, which is based in the city of Hanko and runs four data centres in southern Finland, told Capacity: "I’m not allowed to talk about it yet."

The city of Hanko is one of the landing points for Cinia’s C-Lion1 cable that runs across the Baltic Sea from Finland to Rostock in Germany – a natural extension for the projected Arctic cable to take services into the central European market.

Joensuu told Capacity that the budget for the cable is €600-€700 million, "depending on where you land the cable, depending which connections you include". He said the group was talking to "several parties" about making and laying the cable, but he would not give details.

Speaking to Capacity last week, Joensuu said that Japan, China and south-east Asia "are all very important" to the project. The cable will have six to eight fibre pairs, he said, with a capacity of 12-20Tbps per fibre pair. Joensuu compared that to C-Lion1, which carries up to 18Tbps per fibre pair.

Asked whether the fibre would hug the northern coast of Russia, he said: "We are seeking the most direct routes and the safest routes, and various alternatives." There are two basic paths, "the north-eastern route" via the northern coast of Russia, and "the north-western route", via Canada. "We are following both routes."



Topics: Arctic, Finland, Japan, China, Alaska, Hokkaido, Sapporo, climate, Cinia