PEACE Cable - The carriers cable

29 November 2018 | Natalie Bannerman

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Xiaohua Sun, COO of PEACE Cable, discusses how the 12,000km system will connect three continents, offering the lowest possible latency, and how the company is forging new partnerships and developing an open cable system.

Spanning Asia, Africa and Europe, the Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) Cable is the latest in long line of subsea cables crossing that East-West divide. The 12,000km system is privately owned by Hengtong Group, offering carrier-neutral services to its customers, across the shortest direct route connectivity.
The self-proclaimed carrier’s carrier cable is, according to PEACE Cable COO Xiaohua Sun, well placed to serve incumbents as well as OTTs, meaning the entry of such content players is not a threat to the new system.

As with all new cable systems popping up around the globe increasing capacity and upgraded technologies are important but it’s the route diversity, and the ability to connect underserved markets, that seem to be top of the list for many a new cable. Sun says that PEACE Cable connects the top populated areas in the world: Asia, Africa and Europe.

“China-Pakistan cross border fibre optical cable makes PEACE cable able to serve Chinese enterprises along on the One Belt, One Road initiative corridor as large scale Chinese investment in Africa, such as in Djibouti,” says Sun.

“On the other hand, Europe is the main traffic destination for Africa, as well as Middle East, where PEACE cable could act as the pipe for this volume of traffic.”
The decision to land in Marseille is not surprising given its reputation as a European interconnectivity hub, but considering the likes of London, Amsterdam or Frankfurt as hubs as well, I was curious to know what set Marseille apart from its European counterparts.

Major hubs

“Marseille is the preferred destination for Middle East and Africa traffic, and it has a proven carrier neutral data centres where it is easy to interconnect, get IP transit, do peering, and get the backhaul to major hubs in Europe,” explained Sun.

Though London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam are also important destinations, Sun says that the terrestrial infrastructure between Marseille and those places is well developed and there is a competitive market for such connectivity. “The ecosystem in Marseille currently is attractive for cables especially if they serve Mediterranean Sea countries that are having their points of presence (PoPs) in Marseille,” he adds.

European partnerships

The company recently announced a number of strategic partnerships with European telcos during Capacity Europe 2018. PCCW Global and Orange will act as landing partners for the cable when it reaches France. With Orange as technical partner, the cable will use Orange infrastructure in Marseille and terminate at a carrier neutral data centre. PCCW Global will act as the commercial manager of the cable in Europe, responsible for all capacity services and landing party arrangements.

Sun says PEACE Cable needs to think big and act fast, which of course requires the right partners. PCCW Global’s vast network and extensive expertise made it top of the list for partners. “The landing party is a cornerstone for the success of any subsea project. Together with PCCW Global, we had to choose the party that has vast experience in landing cables in Marseille and is able to provide the required level of infrastructure, operation, support, and at the same time the neutrality, because the cable terminal equipment will be hosted at a carrier neutral data centre in Marseille,” explains Sun.

Neutral connections

Interestingly PEACE will land at a combination of carrier-neutral data centres and cable landing stations along its routes, depending on “where we find those reputable data centres available and where it is technically feasible. In other locations PEACE cable will land in normal cable landing stations, however the commercial terms will be friendly and close to data centre rules,” says Sun.

The increasing number of cable projects forgoing the cable landing station and connecting directly into the data centre is a polarising topic within the industry. While some see it as an advantage to make direct connections to data centre facilities others argue it depends on your proximity to these facilities and the backhaul needed to carry it there.

For Sun however, it is the presence in a carrier neutral facility that the biggest attraction for PEACE Cable.

“As a cable developer, we’d like as many networks, carriers and users to connect to our cable, which requires our presence in an open access facility. Through experience cable landing stations tend to have restrictions on connectivity to different networks and also commercial challenges.”

But he is keen to explain that data centres do not replace the cable landing stations, and that it is required to host certain equipment such as power feeds and optical switches. Additionally he says that there are some technical limitations as well, depending on the proximity of the data centre from the landing point.

“Having said that, it is worth mentioning that the concept of carrier neutral data centre is not mature in many territories, and it is not possible in some countries to search for a data centre to terminate the system capacity in,” he adds.

Huawei Marine was named early on as construction partner of the PEACE Cable, while Hengtong will supply and manufacture the system, a decision that was based on strong former collaborations with the company.

Sun explains: “We found a level of dedication and professional project management that exceeded our expectations, as well as innovative subsea technology that is advanced day after day, and we have decided to choose them for this critical investment of Hengtong Group.”

Outside of Europe and Asia, the company has struck a number of strategic partnerships in Africa, with its landing points in Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya and South Africa. As we know certain parts of the continent from a networking and backhaul perspective are underdeveloped, but Sun takes an optimistic approach to the challenge, saying:

“Some have backhaul yet in development, some are well developed. PEACE Cable will help on the development of landing facilities including the backhaul network if needed.”

In terms of emerging technologies, 5G and the internet of things (IoT) will definitely “fill the network tubes in terms of the access and metro networks”. However, Sun says that “the increasing globalisation of enterprises and people as well as the global real-time communication needs between people-to-people and machine-to-machine will definitely increase the traffic on intercontinental infrastructure like PEACE Cable.”

Open networks

The key differentiator between PEACE and many of its competitors is the open nature of its network. Explaining the significance of this on the system, Sun says that the end user reaps the rewards.

“Open access would not reduce the cost to us but to the end users,” he replies. “We want to build differentiation for the market to offer interconnection for three of the world’s most populous continents whilst at the same time dramatically reducing latency, delivering a superior connectivity experience, which will be ideal for a vast array of commercial and consumer applications.”

As if that weren’t enough Sun also claims that the cable has “created a new business model in the submarine cable industry”.

PEACE Cable is investing in the trunk from Pakistan to Marseille and Kenya. Thanks to the wavelength selective switching (WSS) technology at branching units, PEACE will be able to provide modifications to the system in the future as and when demand changes.

“It is an open system, so it can be upgraded with any supplier and with the new technologies when they come to the market,” adds Sun. “The upgrade would be defined by the market demand and need with more flexible process compared to the consortium cable systems.”

With an RFS date of Q1 of 2020 and a design capacity of 16Tbs per fibre pair using the latest 200G and WSS technology, the PEACE cable has the potential for numerous branching units and the ability to scale. Once live, Sun says there are plans for the cable in both African and transatlantic markets.

“We have reserved several branching units on the route, so that we could provide extend to potential landing points,” Sun concludes. “We are also looking at extending into South Africa, the West Africa Coast, and even transatlantic.”