Big Interview

A conversation with Alain Biston of Alcatel Submarine Networks

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Alain Biston, president and CEO of Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), discusses capacity demand increase and roadmap for the coming years.

How is ASN managing the data demands for increased cable connectivity?

ASN is working on a couple of fronts. Firstly, we are developing dry and wet plant technologies to increase the capacity of submarine networks; SDM has been selected by the industry as the best approach to achieve this goal. Secondly, we are continuously optimising our industrial capacity to cope with steadily increasing demand from our customer base.

How is ASN maximising on the opportunity to partner with OTTs in the connectivity space? Are their needs much different from carriers?

OTTs are currently building a global network to interconnect their massive data centers. They are establishing partnerships with reliable suppliers to deploy this network in the most efficient way possible. This of course means installing state-of-the-art optical fiber submarine networks, with high capacity at the best possible cost-per-bit. It also means deploying new submarine connections within tight timing constraints, and for this they need dependable partners such as ASN.

OTTs needs differ from carriers’, as they are deploying multi-redundant networks (and lighting up the fiber pairs) much faster than carriers do. This is mainly due to the need for high-capacity connections growing really fast (mostly from data center interconnectivity requirements), as well as the development of new usages (Internet-of-things, 5G, video and other application)

Last year ASN launched SDM1. How is this solution delivering increased efficiency on existing cable systems? How effective is it in managing constantly changing data demands?

Spatial Division Multiplexing (SDM) has changed the paradigm for high-capacity submarine systems. At a time when transmission technology is plateauing, as it is now very close to the well-known Shannon limit, finding a way to increase the overall capacity of long-haul submarine networks while simultaneously reducing the cost-per-bit has been our driver to develop our solution named SDM1.

For a given cable capacity, SDM1 uses more fibre pairs with lower capacity per fibre pair, in order to reach the optimal balance between optical and electrical power, signal-to-noise ratio and fibre nonlinearities. Today, ASN continues to lead the way, having captured more than 60% of the SDM market to date.

We know that ASN was selected to build the Tokelau subsea cable as well as the Southern Cross NEXT cable to name a few. What makes ASN, the ideal partner for new cable builds? What differentiates ASN from its competitors?

Thanks to its complete product portfolio, ASN can build and deploy any kind of subsea system, from domestic and regional submarine cable for local connectivity, to very large (transoceanic-type) and complex systems with state-of-the-art transmission performance under very challenging design parameters.

ASN Marine teams supported by Louis Dreyfus Armateurs (LDA) are experienced in all areas of the globe, from warm austral seas in the South Pacific to very cold and harsh environments such as the Arctic on the North West coast of Canada/USA. Our track record of deploying extremely reliable systems spans several decades, which is not the case for all competitors.

What is the roadmap for the company over the next 12 months?

ASN priority is to build all the systems we have on order in our backlog, while continuing to improve our commitment to execution excellence. At the same time, ASN teams are already working on SDM2, the next generation of SDM systems.

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