Yves Ruggeri, SubOptic/Orange: Water under the bridge
Big Interview

Yves Ruggeri, SubOptic/Orange: Water under the bridge

As president of the next SubOptic conference, Yves Ruggeri will need to call on all his powers to make a diverse bunch of attendees stay in tune.

He works in an industry that is competitive, challenging and at times marked by disagreement and conflict, so it is easy to understand why in his off-duty hours Yves Ruggeri likes to indulge his passion for harmony. At home in Paris, he is often to be found at his harpsichord, an instrument on which he has near-professional proficiency and a string of qualifications.

As president of the executive committee for the next SubOptic conference, his ability to combine disparate elements into a harmonious whole will be put to the test.

Preparations for the next SubOptic event are already well underway. Held every three years, the next incarnation takes place in Dubai on April 18-21 2016, marking 30 years since its first incarnation in Versailles in 1986.

Ruggeri – whose full-time role is head of network strategy and submarine systems for French operator Orange – says there is no other gathering like it in the telecoms sector: “It’s the longest-running event in the optical fibre submarine cable industry,” he claims. “It is unique in that it is the only event covering our industry which is organised on a non-profit-making basis.”

Invited, he says, will be all the usual suspects from the communications ecosystem – vendors, network operators and service providers, with both buyers and sellers of capacity represented. The broad church that is SubOptic also finds room for delegates from the financial, regulatory and academic worlds: “It’s really anyone who has an interest in submarine cable activities,” adds Ruggeri.

It is in the nature of submarine connectivity that the roll call of stakeholders who make up the event is constantly evolving, and this is reflected in the membership of its executive committee, says Ruggeri. This openness to change is vital to helping to keep the event’s focus fresh and abreast of the latest trends and developments.

SubOptic’s agenda is likewise maximised to take in as many of the industry’s current concerns as possible: “The programme is put together from within the industry to cover the latest hot topics and issues,” explains Ruggeri. “We also introduce keynote speakers who come from outside the industry to share topical subjects which could impact the future.”

The submarine industry, he believes, is on the one hand highly competitive but also by necessity very co-operative: “This aspect is due to the scope and scale of many projects in which multiple suppliers and customers have to come together to make them successful,” he explains. “This co-operation offers the industry a wealth of best practices in technical, operational, project management and commercial areas.”

Speakers at the event and the papers they will be delivering are not tied to sponsorship, and all materials to be presented are individually and independently reviewed. This material, subsequent to presentation, is freely downloadable from the SubOptic website after the conference has wrapped, constituting an archive that is unrivalled in the industry for depth and size. 

“We offer a breadth and depth of programme that other commercial events can only aspire to,” says Ruggeri. “And being non-profit allows SubOptic to offer a unique programme at a minimum registration fee.”

An eventful period 

The relevance of the event does not end when the last speaker has packed away their notes. Each SubOptic is a springboard for a number of follow-up initiatives and activities. These are usually a logical extension of the papers and discussion topics aired during the event and will invariably be matters of common interest to the whole industry. 

Spinning out of a previous SubOptic was an influential initiative to define ‘model contracts’ for procuring submarine cable systems: “This project helped the industry with comprehensive and standardised contracting in submarine cable procurement,” says Ruggeri. 

Out of SubOptic 2013 came discussion of the successive upgrading or re-use of existing cable systems: “It was concluded that while technically it might be possible to use wet plant beyond a designed lifespan of 25 years, all other related aspects such as financial, commercial, operational and legal need to be thoroughly reviewed and examined,” says Ruggeri.

“A working group was thus formed to perform this comprehensive review task and hopefully identify key factors that could contribute to the use of submarine cables beyond their initial designed lifespan. A panel discussion has been planned in the upcoming PTC 2015 to introduce this project initiative,” he adds.  

SubOptic also reaches out to other non-profit bodies to promote public and global awareness and knowledge around of submarine cables issues. It is in co-operation, for example, with the International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC) for the development of a website dedicated to submarine cables and to examine global activities from technical, environmental, social and economic perspectives, says Ruggeri.

The nature of the issues examined by SubOptic has naturally changed a great deal since the inaugural Versailles event 30 years ago: “Back then, optical submarine cables were in their infancy,” points out Ruggeri. “Since then, SubOptic has witnessed the evolution of the submarine cable industry and seen several major challenges. The nature of the challenges has evolved from those you’d call primarily technology driven to those that are related to regulatory development, or to socio-economic evolution impacting from a user perspective, to today’s challenges which are more multi-faceted and diverse and which involve technological, geo-political and data security issues – even issues relating to national security.”

Early SubOptic discussions, he recalls, tended to revolve rather more around technological developments and would typically involve a small group of vendors and their carrier customers, which in those days were mostly government-owned. “We’ve seen incredible evolution from systems with a single fibre pair having a capacity of 280Mbit/s, moving first to a 2.5Gbit/s optical amplifier, then to the introduction of large scale WDM,” he says. “We’re now looking at in excess of 100 wavelengths per fibre, with bit rate capacities rising 10Gbit/s, 40Gbit/s and 100Gbit/s per wavelength.”

2016 and beyond

Subsequent SubOptics took in the birth of private cable companies following on from the de-regulation happening in different parts of the world. Then came the dark days of the early 2000s.

“Over-expansion led to the over-provision of submarine cable capacity during the beginning of the 21st century and the bursting of the internet bubble which followed,” recollects Ruggeri. “The survivors then came together and learned from past experiences to strengthen the industry for sustainable growth.”

Topics like upgrades and the usage of cables beyond design life have not gone away, but have been joined by others such as the vital importance of cable diversity and the way in which connectivity needs must now be linked to political challenges in different parts of the world. 

“We need to take in the continued shift in the nature of traffic, and patterns of traffic linked with the rise of the internet and OTTs, and the issue of data security at national level,” he says. 

So what is likely to be on the slate at SubOptic 2016? It is likely, believes Ruggeri, that much talk will be driven by the large number of major projects underway or just completed during 2016, bringing with them the potential for a huge increase in global bandwidth levels: 

There will no doubt be talk to of the multiple major existing systems which could be well past their mid lifespan by 2016: “What will their future be, and can they be upgraded further and with what capacity?” he queries. 

Vendors, as key drivers of change and progress, will have their say: “As continents and countries become interconnected, in some cases by multiple systems, the upgrade market may predominate so we will need to look at how will this impact wet plant suppliers,” he says. 

When brokering these sensitive and vital issues, Ruggeri will be calling on all his 25 years as a seasoned executive in the telecoms field. Currently he is in charge of network strategy and submarine systems at Orange and has been busy on designing and implementing Orange’s international backbone networks.

Recently he has been engaged with the design, funding, implementation and operation of one of the most significant submarine cable projects of the era – the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable, a $700 million project connecting 21 countries stretching from France to South Africa. He is also boss of SEA-ME-WE 3, the largest submarine cable consortium in the world, with 84 shareholders. And he manages the LION and LION2 cables in the Indian Ocean.

As well as harpsichord playing, Ruggeri is keen on photography and his many international meetings and travels have given him the chance to visit diverse scenery, monuments and landmarks, and capture them in his own way. Perhaps as comes naturally to a Frenchman, Ruggeri is a passionate foodie. He says he would like to be thought of as someone who truly appreciates fine food and wines from all over the world, “but with an obvious preference for those from France”.

His talent for combining different elements to make a wholesome dish fit for all might also be useful in Dubai in 2016.