Riding the wave of an evolving wholesale world
Today's rapidly growing data-driven world is creating new opportunities for those with a laser-guided focus on delivering pure subsea capacity services, as the lines between the wholesale and enterprise segments blur. Chris Bayly, CCO at Aqua Comms, explains what this means for the subsea market.
The world of the internet has undergone massive change in the past decade alone, such that people in many parts of the globe now take a reliable, consistent connection for granted. This expectation has clearly ramped up even further amid global events since 2020, highlighting the extent to which we are now in a data-centric world.
Chris Bayly, CCO at Aqua Comms, reflects on life in the 1990s, when people in the UK often had access to just four – and later five – non-internet-based terrestrial TV channels with linear programming, compared with today’s almost limitless internet-based viewing options.
“For a movie, you don’t go to Blockbuster video store any more,” says Bayly. “On-demand channels have changed the way we watch TV forever.”
This shows just how much things have changed within the space of only a couple of decades. “Covid came along at a time when thankfully people’s internet was generally a lot better, otherwise we’d have had a massive problem,” says Bayly. “We now get frustrated if the internet doesn’t work; the expectation is just that networks have to work.”
With the way the world has evolved in this era of digitisation, a much wider array of companies have become data-driven. At the core of that is the growing need for capacity, which over time has arguably blurred the lines between the traditional wholesale and enterprise markets as new tech businesses have come to want their own networks rather than just seeking a variety of value-added services offered by telcos.
Bayly explains that OTT players like Facebook and Google don’t sell the capacity they acquire to make their profit, but use it to form the backbone of their network and keep their services working effectively. These giants of the internet world have been joined by newer OTT players offering free services, such as Zoom, and services over cloud platforms, such as Netflix or Salesforce.
Businesses in different verticals that have classically been considered enterprise in the past – such as financial services, banks, pharmaceuticals, and oil and gas – have also been getting in on the act by starting to buy and operate private cloud networks to help fulfil some of their data needs. These are wholesale services for what are deemed enterprises, says Bayly.
“They’re now deploying networks because they all have data needs for the purpose of running their businesses, together with a data-centre-to-data-centre-type network,” he says. “There are various ways you can do that, but as you scale, you may end up ultimately buying your own private network.”
He points out that these aims don’t necessarily require the full feature range of the traditional telco enterprise service with enhanced service management and extra value-added enterprise offerings on top. “We provide the subsea highway between two major network points, moving large amounts of data that are delivered with clear and simple service levels,” says Bayly.
This is not necessarily the “sexy” stuff, he concedes, but is essential in today’s data-driven environment. “Making sure that the ‘plumbing’ works is fundamentally critical to anything working,” he says.
In this modern world of demand for more pure wholesale capacity, he explains, companies can find advantages in buying from wholesalers that offer a highly capacity-centric product that enables them to provide a specific service. At the same time, this aids agility and flexibility, qualities for which the wholesale industry has not always been renowned.
The company that Bayly works for, Ireland-based Aqua Comms, is strongly focused on subsea capacity services aimed at those that use telecoms as part of their business. Driving for efficiency and speed, the company offers rapid installation within 72 hours and a network designed to meet the specific needs of content providers, cloud-based networks, data centres, IT companies and the global media on a carrier-neutral basis.
“It’s quite straightforward – it doesn’t come with a lot of bells and whistles,” says Bayly. “We might sell our services to an enterprise, but they’re using it in a wholesale way; they’re not expecting us to have a service review with them as regularly as you would with traditional enterprise services, as the service is typically a point-to-point backbone transport-layer service connecting two hub locations.”
He elaborates on the specific focus that Aqua Comms has on delivering these services as effectively as possible. “We’re subject matter experts, but also operationally we are very focused on making sure that the subsea element of our solution is run, delivered and managed very efficiently. It’s a niche, but it’s a big-volume niche.
“And we sit as one part of three core network elements: data centres, terrestrial networks and subsea services. You could say that we are not the jack of all trades but the master of one.”
As an example of the type of agility the company can provide, it has already been involved in multiple subsea cables since it was founded in 2014, with these systems together covering diverse routes across the Atlantic Ocean, the Irish Sea, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean through the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. It has achieved this with a dedicated team of experienced professionals at its core, and a set of outsourced relationships that Bayly says enable it to manage large submarine assets and adapt to needs quickly and efficiently.
“We’re on a pretty high-growth strategy and heavy investment plan to build out our capability,” he says. “We’re looking to build out diverse routes connecting the major global transport hubs and then have partner networks in regions.”
He adds that this strategy has been aided through support from the Triple Point managed digital investment trust Digital 9 Infrastructure (D9), which acquired Aqua Comms early last year. This facilitated access to capital and has therefore aided the company’s expansion.
Aqua Comms offers capacity services on several routes across the Atlantic, the Irish Sea and onwards through the North Sea to Denmark, providing 10Gb and 100Gb wavelengths, as well as 400Gb options on its transatlantic AEC-1, AEC-2 and AEC-3 cables.
The company’s latest endeavour is the EMIC-1 cable, an investment by D9, which Aqua Comms will operate and manage. The cable, which is expected to go live in 2024, will connect the key European hubs of Barcelona, Marseille and Genoa with Salalah, Oman, and Mumbai, India, bringing a high-capacity system to rapidly growing underserved markets.
Talking of the buildout trajectory, Bayly says: “We have the Atlantic covered and we’ll add more there. We’ve now reached out to India, and we’ll keeping going to connect major hub locations around the world and run those subsea assets really efficiently.”
With the number of projects growing and further expansion planned for the future, Bayly elaborates on how the evolving wholesale world has broadened the opportunities for streamlined sellers of capacity like Aqua Comms.
“Wholesale is widening in terms of the sectors that it reaches and the types of companies buying it, because of the digital transformation that companies are going through.”
That environment creates big opportunities for those that are able to find their place in this critical market, he adds. “It’s about making sure that there is a clear understanding about where we all fit and how we can drive profitability that is sustainable for the longer term.”
Aqua Comms also benefits from having projects involving cable partnerships with the likes of Meta and Google, which have been leading the OTT charge on adding capacity and building their own cable systems. Together, for example, they have worked on the Havfrue cable, including delivering AEC-2 for Aqua Comms as its part of the system.
All this activity during the digital transformation means that players in this new wholesale world that has evolved in tandem have the chance to seize on some real momentum going forward. “The market’s running at 100 miles an hour because there’s such an insatiable desire for data,” says Bayly. “In pretty much every part of the world there’s activity happening.”