Growth of subsea cables in the South Pacific

John Hibbard explores the booming growth in the Pacific cable network.

The recent announcement of the request for tender for the Pacific fibre cable from New Zealand to the US has generated great excitement in the south Pacific. Additional competition has the potential to reduce capacity cost across the region, which historically and understandably has been higher than the north Pacific because it is a very long, relatively low volume route. A new cable equipped from the outset for 40Gbps transmission has the scope to reduce prices, so there is quite some speculation in the marketplace. The biggest challenge will be assembling the funding as the actual demand may be hard to predict. Running approximately parallel are the relatively lightly used Southern Cross and Endeavour cable systems, both of which have minimal debt obligations, and hence arguably have the scope to reduce prices to match the competition. It will be interesting to observe the appetite of the funding agencies for a private cable up against systems owned by the biggest players in the region.

Also during April, a cable from Vanuatu to Fiji was announced to provide the Vanuatu nation with its first cable link. Hitherto Vanuatu has depended on satellite which has been increasingly straining with the exploding demand for internet service. The Interchange Cable, named after the company that has developed it, will see yet another Pacific Island serviced by submarine cable. The number of those without cables is diminishing as the importance of a connection of abundant capacity to the global internet is increasingly recognised as essential to the economic development and social wellbeing of developing countries.

Many will recall the proposed SPIN project which would have linked New Caledonia to French Polynesia, providing a connection from Australia to the US through a network of cables. This was a grand plan to serve many Pacific Island nations with cable landings or spurs. Unfortunately, due in part to the magnitude of the project, it has never reached the implementation phase. Instead the various nations have done their own thing, filling in some of elements that comprised the original SPIN plan. If in future New Caledonia is linked to Vanuatu, the region is well on the way to implementing SPIN by doing it in smaller more manageable bites.

We all wait with interest to see which other elements will be established of the original SPIN concept. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a cable achieve its objectives.

John Hibbard is CEO of Hibbard Consulting. He can be contacted at: jhibbard@bigpond.com