Subsea cable systems - are there ever enough?

11 May 2012 | Guy Matthews


It seems there’s just no such thing as ‘enough’ when it comes to the construction of intercontinental cable systems – particularly those connecting the commercial hotspots of Asia and the Middle East with the mature economies of Europe.

Tata Communications has just completed what it says is the first ever round-the-world cable network, the first at any rate to be built, owned and operated by a single company. The final piece in the jigsaw was the Tata Global Network-Eurasia (TGN-EA) system, which connects Europe to India via Egypt, delivering not only increased capacity but added resilience and diversity as well as improved latency and scalability to a route that one might have been forgiven for thinking already fairly well served.

After all, there’s also the newly unveiled Tata Global Network-Gulf (TGN-Gulf) cable system connecting Oman, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to India, adding to the capacity delivered by diverse recent launches by other operators and consortiums serving a comparable need. It’s not just the big names of the industry in on the action.

Many smaller projects are also in gestation linking far flung parts of the world to each other. Work on the Seychelles East Africa System (SEAS) international submarine cable has now started. The projects backers have contracted Alcatel-Lucent to build an undersea fibre link between Dar-es-Salaam and the Seychelles, proving that there is no economy too small to be worth connecting to the global superhighway.

Every now and then an unforeseen event chances along that proves why ‘enough’ subsea capacity is never really enough. A few weeks ago a cargo ship in the Red Sea damaged no fewer than three major cable systems in the same accident, somewhere between Djibouti and Port Sudan. The three affected systems were EASSy, SEA-ME-WE 3 and EIG which between them provide the majority of internet connectivity between Africa’s east coast and Europe.

There was no total break in services, such as might have been experienced in the days when a small, developing economy like Djibouti would have been lucky to have one unprotected subsea link landing on its shores. Djibouti Telecom was quite clear on the point that none of its customers would have noted a total loss of connectivity, more a temporary tailing off of performance.

The point nevertheless was clearly made once more that there really is no such thing as ‘too much diversity’ or ‘too much choice’ when it comes to major cable systems under the ocean.

Guy Matthews can be contacted at: guy@transom-enterprises.co.uk