Big Interview

GlobalConnect and the next digital superhighway

Martin Höjriis.png

July 2022, saw GlobalConnect confirm to Capacity Media, news of its new subsea cable system, Digital E4, begin installation between Sweden and the Danish Island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea.

Announced back in 2021, the tentatively named Digital E4 cable, is named after the E4 highway between Luleå in northern Sweden and Helsingborg in the south of Sweden and forms part of “the largest digital infrastructure project we’ve seen in the Nordics in recent years" known as the Digital Freeway project, according to Regina Donato Dahlström, CEO of GlobalConnect Carrier at the time.

Most recently, GlobalConnect begun drilling off the Swedish coast, preparing the landing site to connect the subsea cable coming from Bornholm. Once in Sweden, the cable will be connected to GlobalConnect's existing terrestrial fibre network while the subsea cable will continue south towards continental Europe through Sassnitz and onwards to Berlin.

Capacity spoke with Martin Højriis Kristensen, head of markets & operations at GlobalConnect Carrier, on some of the finer details of the project and how it all interlinks.

On the relationship between the Digital E4 cable and the wider Digital Freeway project, Kristensen explained: "We are building a super fibre cable from Berlin to Haparanda in northern Sweden which will be able to carry the entire data capacity in the Nordics today (3Pbs). The length of the new Digital Highway is 2600km which of 700km is being deployed as five separate subsea cables."

Digital E4 is one of these aforementioned cables, which span Bornholm in Denmark – Skåne, Simrishamn in Sweden, Bornholm in Denmark – Öland in Sweden, Bornholm in Denmark – Sassnitz in Germany, Copenhagen in Denmark – Malmö in Sweden and Öland – Gotland in Sweden.

In support of the system, all five cables of the Digital Highway system, will be interconnected with GlobalConnect's existing terrestrial networks once they make landfall.

"We are building a brand new and unique route to the Nordics using both sea and land. There are already several cables going from Copenhagen to Malmö, but no other cables are utilising some of the unique stretches as we are currently building. In the northmost Sweden we are using existing digital infrastructure as part of Digital E4," says Kristensen.

Leveraging much of GlobalConnect's established network, the cables will all connect to cable landing stations on beaches, before going on to connect into its existing fibre footprint.

"Our existing network is connected to all interconnection points, and with the Digital Highway project we are extending our reach by adding additional routes through Sweden and Germany. Once in Berlin, the super cable will connect with existing European infrastructure," he adds.

From a technological standpoint, is taking a neutral approach, not committing to any one innovation or optical technology in its deployment, as it is being built as passive fibre cables, using Bornholm to host its amplification site, and therefore avoiding the more complicated amplified systems.

"The Digital Highway is not constructed for any specific technology as it is very likely the technology will develop & evolve over time. The customers can choose whatever tech they prefer. We are currently using the most dense network technologies there are," this includes Infinera's ICE6 technology over its Swedish national backbone network, built using Infinera’s XTM Series metro and regional packet optical platform.

The cable itself will be double armoured, featuring a 192-fibre compact design (96 fibre pairs), built for a depth to up to 3000 metres and a tension of up to 15 tons, it will be made in Sweden by Hexatronic while Swedish company, Baltic Offshore will act as the the cable laying company carrying out the work for the project at Bornholm.

Given the size and scale of the Digital Highway project, it was interesting to see GlobalConnect chose to not only forgo hyperscale/OTT participation, but also that of the traditional carrier consortium.

"We already work with all the major customers out there, and with all these projects we have close collaboration with our customers," says Kristensen.

"A fundamental core pillar of our strategy is to own infrastructure when possible. In this scenario it was, and we didn’t need to onboard any other party or consortium as we had the financial strength to do it ourselves."

Once operational, due to be completed at the end of 2022, Digital E4 will enable a number of new use cases while deliver much-needed redundancy to the region.

"By offering the best possible digital infrastructure with multiple access routes we want to cater for continued investments and keep attracting global tech companies to our region," says Kristensen.

"In addition, when building the new Digital Highway we make sure to connect everything we pass on the way, such as 5G towers, critical infrastructure, hospitals, villa owners and new business etc. Additional digital infrastructure will also result in better competitiveness and better price for the end-consumers."