Look for new routes, and don't lose it in the Luzon

Asia’s Luzon Strait is congested, and a number of operators are supporting projects that are looking at alternative routes for cables via the south Philippines, to destinations across south-east Asia and on towards the US mainland.

Asia’s Luzon Strait is congested, and a number of operators are supporting projects that are looking at alternative routes for cables via the south Philippines, to destinations across south-east Asia and on towards the US mainland.

You may recall an article written by my colleague John Hibbard in 2011 entitled: Is it time to bypass the Luzon Strait? The key message was: Is it time that an Asian cable was constructed via south Philippines, avoiding the congested and narrow Luzon Strait south of Taiwan?  

Since that time many concepts have come, some are gone, and some are coming to reality.  

While many may think our industry awakens slowly, there has been significant progress in the south Philippines region – but is it going to be fast enough? No one denies that creating a new segment of the global mesh of submarine cables is an expensive, time consuming and complex task – and in this case the development has been no different. 

So what has transpired since 2011? A Malaysian initiative known as KRS or Serantau was first to take up the gauntlet. The concept was perfect on paper – an express cable path from Malaysia to Guam and on to the US via the South Philippines Sea. Perfect timing, great plan, excellent drive and initiative – but alas as time went on it became obvious that KRS was not to be. One got the impression that a large group of existing and aspiring Malaysian carriers and service providers could not get the concept over the line, but KRS did sow a seed. 

KRS was soon followed by a further two initiatives looking to exploit the South Philippines path. The BEST Cable System – “BEST” is for Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines (BIMP) East ASEAN Growth Area (EAGA) Submarine Terrestrial – announced plans for the supply and installation of a high bandwidth fibre-optic cable system that would link the region and Guam, then connect to the US and the rest of the Asian countries. The BEST initiative, when completed, would provide direct access to the US mainland, Japan, the Asia-Pacific region and Singapore via interconnections with the existing submarine cable systems of AAG Cable from Guam to the US, Trinity Cable from the US to Japan, SJC Cable from Japan to Singapore and back to Brunei. 

BEST to this day remains in progress, though it has announced the construction of the leg between Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and south Philippines. However, few further details have been released about progress for a further extension to Guam.

The good news story of course is SEA-US. The SEA-US consortium consists of PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia International (Telin), Globe Telecom, RAM Telecom International (RTI), Hawaiian Telcom, Teleguam Holdings (GTA), GTI – a member of the Globe Telecom group of companies – and Telkom USA. This cable when completed in 2017 will connect Kauditan, near Manado, in Sulawesi, Indonesia and Davao in southern Philippines to Guam, with onward extension to Hawaii and the west coast of the US. 

The main promoters of the cable west of Guam are Telin and Globe/GTI. NEC has been selected as system supplier, and construction of the cable system is underway.

PLDT recently announced it was looking for partners to extend its network via south Philippines into Guam and the US. Isn’t it amazing what competition does? I wonder if others are out there.

The land reclamation and other sovereign activity to the north east of Philippines serves to provide further justification to exploit global mesh paths via the south Philippines region – and great progress has been made – but does it go far enough?  

The current systems under development via south Philippines terminate well to the east of the south-east Asian hub region, including both Singapore and Malaysia.  And while alternative cable paths might be established via networks through Indonesia or around Borneo to provide a connection to say SEA-US, they do not provide the direct, high-security, low-latency solution that south-east Asia would need to go via a diverse route south of the Philippines – a gap of over 2000km to fill.

So as my colleague asked back in 2011, do the existing groups have plans to go further and complete the mesh connectivity? Who wants to have capacity in the cable from south-east Asia to the US via south Philippines?  

We don’t want to lose it in the Luzon again. Finish the job, the requirement is definitely there – and again, it is just a question of who will be the first to make the move. 


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