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Arctic cable plans warm up as Japan-US-European group is formed

Far North Fiber Arctic.jpg

Three companies, in Europe, the US and Japan, have formally created the company they hope will build the first Arctic cable.

The newly set up Far North Fiber (FNF) will promote a system that aims to build a faster and more secure route directly connecting Japan, North America, and Ireland and Scandinavia.

This follows a memorandum of understanding signed in February between Cinia of Finland and Arteria of Japan.

The latest development sees the addition of Alaska’s Far North Digital (FND) to the group.

FND says it is “assembling financing to advance these projects”. It says it has “secured a line of credit and engaged with major investors”, but does not yet name “potential customers, investors, and government agencies to complete the financing package”.

Guy Houser, FND’s chief operating officer, said: “Far North Fiber represents a unique partnership, which is going to improve Arctic infrastructure, lead to greater scientific understanding of the environment along the route, and build closer relationships for the connected regions and communities.”

Alaska has become a centre of expertise in icy fibre in recent months, with the completion only weeks ago by Liberty Broadband’s GCI of the AU-Aleutians Fiber Project, which connects the US state’s Aleutian islands to the mainland, promising to offer residents 2GBps fibre services.

Now, this new international consortium of companies have formed a joint corporation to work towards development of a submarine fibre optic system connecting Asia and Europe through the Arctic (see map).

FNF says it has selected Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) to build and install the submarine cable and equipment required for this project. The cable should be ready for service “by the end of 2026”, says the company.

However, observers at the Capacity Europe conference last week raised eyebrows at such Arctic cable projects, pointing out the high cost – estimated at $1 billion – and the difficulty of maintaining a cable when faults inevitably arise. In spite of global warming, which has reduced Arctic sea ice to an alarming extent, much of the region is ice-covered for many months a year, delaying the arrival of maintenance ships.

But the members of the consortium expressed confidence in the project

Ari-Jussi Knaapila, CEO of Cinia, said: “Far North Fiber will be the first multicontinental cable system through the Arctic. It provides a backbone that offers enhanced opportunities for economic development, international security, and a greener footprint for the buildout of global digital infrastructure.”

Koji Kabumoto, president and CEO of Arteria, said: “The FNF is to build a network that directly connects Europe and Asia with low latency through the Northwest Passage, and Japan will serve as the gateway to Asia. It is our pleasure to be involved in this journey, as the project is expected to contribute the development of digital societies in Japan and Asia in a wide range of fields, including industry, academia, and culture.”

This is just the latest of a number of projects to emerge through the icecap. A few years ago Cinia was talking to Russian operator Megafon about a subsea cable going the other way round the Arctic, through Russian territorial waters. Russia’s war on Ukraine, and the greater security risk now seen in the west, mean that is no longer feasible.

Around the same time Canadian company Quintillion, which has built a cable round the Alaskan coast, was looking at extending this south to Japan and east via Canadian waters to Ireland.

The FNF consortium says it plans a 14,000km open-network repeatered 12-fibre-pair cable system with terminal stations in Japan, Ireland and Norway or Finland. There will be a regeneration station in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, for local add/drop.

Two fibre-pairs of the 12 will be reserved for local use, carrying 30Tbps. The other ten will carry a total of 120Tbps.