Earthquakes expose Asia's subsea cable vulnerability

16 January 2012 |


2011 exposed once again Asia’s vunerability in relying on trans-Pacific subsea cable systems to carry the bulk of its global IP traffic.

In April, one of the most powerful earthquakes in modern history triggered powerful tsunami waves that caused widespread devastation across east Japan, and in the process damaged portions of several undersea cable systems landing in the affected regions. While carriers have continued their quest to diversify undersea routes to avoid natural disaster prone areas, a renewed focus has also emerged on developing long distance terrestrial fibre links between Asia and Europe.

Last year, China Telecom and Rostelecom signed an agreement to upgrade the Russian carrier’s Transit Europe-Asia (TEA) to 10G by the first quarter of 2012. Once operational, the route is expected to become one of the shortest 10G routes between Europe and Asia. China Telecom has continued to be a pioneer of terrestrial links between Asia and Europe through its subsidiary China Telecom Europe. The company is expected to complete its fourth terrestrial link in late 2011, which will run through Kazakhstan. With routes through China-Russia or China-Kazakhstan-Russia offering the shortest possible distances between Europe and Asia for deploying terrestrial cable and therefore offering valuable lower latency for operators, a noticeable change is occuring in the market. These were regions once viewed as heavily regulated by governments and associated with relatively high pricing, but the development of these projects is an increasing sign of market liberalisation.

Plans by Tata Communications and China Telecom to jointly construct an optical fibre network between China and India illustrate this point further. Due to go live in 2012, the link will see a marriage of both Tata’s and China Telecom’s global networks. “As more and more Chinese companies expand their businesses in Europe, China Telecom has made a move to stop the growing vulnerability of relying on subsea cables by developing terrestrial projects that increase capacity and reliable connectivity between Asia and Europe,” says Charice Wang, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media Group.

Wang says the development of terrestrial routes between Europe and Asia will not only offer a valuable alternative to congested and vulnerable subsea routes, but also help increase global financial trading and international business between Asia and Europe. “These new build or expanded terrestrial networks between Asia and Europe will offer route diversity and wider customer choice as an alternative to existing subsea cable systems,” says Wang.

Given the extreme length and hazardous terrain that terrestrial networks between Europe and Asia must contend with, Wang highlights their limitations. “We won’t see traffic split evenly between terrestrial and subsea routes as ultimately the higher costs of terrestrial networks will hinder popular usage. In the short term, terrestrial routes are more likely to continue as a support system to subsea routes. 


 

Developments in 2012

  • The Asia Submarine-Cable Express (ASE) is due to become operational in June 2012. The 7,200km undersea system will link Singapore directly to Japan, the Philippines and Hong Kong, and is designed to avoid earthquake and typhoon-prone regions.
  • An optical fibre network between China and India is due to go live during 2012. The link between the two nations is a result of a joint venture between China Telecom and Tata Communications.
  • An agreement signed between China Telecom and Rostelecom in 2011 will see an upgrade to the Russian carrier’s Transit Europe-Asia (TEA) terrestrial cable system completed in 2012. The joint investment of over $70 million will see TEA’s existing SDH ring upgraded to 10G technology as both carriers seek to meet the increasing traffic demand between Europe and Asia.