Big Interview

Altice Portugal bolsters the Portuguese ecosystem

Alexander Freese- Altice NEW.jpg

As one of Europe's longest standing incumbents, Altice Portugal has long been a part of the subsea cable sector. It value proposition in the space makes it best placed to support partners wanting to access the burgeoning Portuguese connectivity market.

Speaking to Alexander Freese, COO of Altice Portugal, it is this expertise that differentiates them from many in the market.

"We have been in the submarine cable industry for many decades as one of the European incumbents. We have accumulated a lot of knowledge we have very knowledgeable team, a lot of expertise," he says.

In terms of assets the company has two landing stations in mainland Portugal, both strategically located in the Lisbon metro area. In those facilities Freese says the company is landing nine subsea cables at present, some which they are co-owners in others they are not.

"This is the case for example for Equiano which has recently entered in our cable landing station in Sesimbra, Portugal," he says. " We also have some domestic cables which go to Portuguese islands of Madeira e Açores."

According to Freese the ecosystem in Portugal is very dynamic, with new cables, satellite gateways and data centres being built.

"We really felt that there was a need for a second data connection point besides Equinix which is really the only one for the whole country," adds Freese. "So now we are adapting an existing facility, for a new interconnection point which will be just as carrier-neutral as the other one, also located in the Lisbon metro area."

The new facility has seen a lot of interest from some of the biggest players in the market "because people are really looking for diversity" which is much needed, as well as the onward connectivity towards Spain using fibre.

Viewing themselves as more of an infrastructure provider, Freese alludes to a few " promising projects" on the horizon, but that they are still "too early to speak about yet".

"We provide all the infrastructure starting from the landing station, the knowledge, the interconnection points as well as service for several cables such as central billing party," he adds.

Portugal's geographic position brings with it a number of benefits from a connectivity standpoint and when it comes to subsea it's an even greater asset, according to Freese.

"If you look at the position of Portugal on a map, Lisbon is the closest European capital to Africa. We are the closest European country to Latin America and also to a big part of the US," he explains. "Cables are being built along all of these three geographical lines which makes it interesting for people to look at Portugal as an important interconnection point."

In June of this year Medusa Submarine Cable System, the Mediterranean subsea cable operator, and Altice Portugal subsidiary MEO signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the landing of the Medusa cable in Carcavelos, in the municipality of Cascais, in the Lisbon district.

The Carcavelos landing station will serve as the western point of the 8,700+km Medusa cable system, connecting 9 countries in Africa and Europe through its landing points in Portugal, Morocco, Spain, France, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus.

The partnership is built on years of collaboration between Altice Portugal and AFR-IX, the company sponsoring Medusa, ever since the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable was built.

"We really liked working together with them because they have a very pragmatic approach to things," says Freese.

"Its always good to have another cable land in Portugal because any additional cable increases the attractiveness of the whole ecosystem for everybody. This cable [Medusa] is especially interesting because it covers geographies, which we don't have direct interconnection with, for example, some of the North African countries or even in the eastern Mediterranean."

In future, Freese believes it could serve as an alternative route to the centre of Europe through Marseille, another key route that Portugal will complement no compete with.

Now almost 3 months on from the announcement and signing of the MoU, Freese says the project is now in an "advanced stage" and both parties are working to finalise contracts.

Subsea cable interconnection, whether with other subsea cables or terrestrial networks, is growing in prevalence, a trend that Freese also recognises.

"It's definitely a recent trend that people want to interconnect cables with cables directly, also with teleports. This was really also the main reason why we thought that our new interconnection point would make sense because it's very close to the to all of the landing stations here in in the metro Lisbon area," he says.

While people are looking for diversity, they also want to reduce latency and that's why direct interconnect is the best route.

From a technological standpoint, technologies like SDM and hollow core fibre are some of the most talked about innovations, but the goal remains the same, increase capacity on the given fibre and = reduce latency.

"SDM is definitely attractive to get more capacity on each of the fibre, so it's definitely here to stay," adds Freese. "Hollow core fibre is definitely something that we're also looking at with a lot of interest. We also have our own innovation company which is focused on terrestrial fibre networks."

While the OTTs/content players continue to be the biggest drivers of data usage, another trend that Freese says the company is watching is the metaverse and edge computing.

"What will be the impact of these on submarine cables or networks as a whole?" he asks. " Will people still go to the big data centres or would they rather a lot of smaller data centres across one country?"

As a self-described " leader in telecommunications in all segments" the priority for next 12 months for Freese and the Altice team is to "really reinforce that leadership".

With a network fibre footprint of 90%+ he adds that on the wholesale of the business "our priority for the next year will be to increase the attractiveness of the ecosystem in Portugal".

This includes bringing in more cables to the market, getting more interest for companies to land into those data centres that have been has had been announced and guarantee interconnection between cables.