Aqua Comms expands subsea assets in Northern Europe

26 February 2019 | Natalie Bannerman

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2019 is going to be a busy year for Aqua Comms. With the company preparing to land 10 subsea cables this year alone, it still shows no signs of slowing down.

Capacity speaks to Nigel Bayliff, CEO, Aqua Comms, about how these plans are progressing and potential expansions into new European markets.

For those who don’t know, please tell us about Aqua Comms’ North Atlantic Loop and the significance of this infrastructure?

The North Atlantic Loop is the combination of all of Aqua Comms’ current and in construction assets. That is AEC-1 (America Europe Connect-1), which is the first cable we launched from Killala in Ireland all the way to Long Island;the CeltixConnect-1 cable from Dublin to Anglesey, and we’re adding to that, with HAVFRUE, which will go from New Jersey all the way over to Denmark, with a branch to Ireland, our portion of that we’re calling America Europe Connect-2 (AEC-2). We’re also building CeltixConnect-2 which goes from North of Dublin across to Blackpool and loops into the Isle of Man, continues across the UK and picking up a cable we’re building from Newcastle to Denmark.

So if you look on a map you’ll see that there’s a loop between Denmark and Ireland that is completely separate infrastructure. And then there’s a loop between Ireland and the US, which altogether will be called the North Atlantic Loop

Why this route in terms of latency, connectivity etc?

The general retirement of the older cable systems that were built at around about the 2000’s marker, were a significant amount of looped cable/dual cable systems. FA1, Apollo are all loop cable systems and those were built to keep resilience in those individual company’s networks. What we’ve done is taken two completely separate assets that are very diverse and turned them into a loop by joining them together using our Ciena optical equipment network. That means that smaller carriers, people that can’t really afford to buy the six or seven routes that the big OTTs buy, can come to us and get connectivity with completely separate paths to Ireland, Scandinavia and the UK.

This part of Northern Europe is important because that’s where all the data centres, renewable electricity supplies as well as the movement of data is concentrated to the north of Europe.  Which is where we’re concentrating our efforts at Aqua Comms.

One announcement that was made last year was collaborating with 1025Connect DE-CIX and Epsilon to create an all-in-one holistic solution. What was the driver of that partnership from Aqua Comms perspective?

For Aqua Comms, because we have the most modern route in Europe, with AEC-1 what we wanted to do is make people aware that Long Island is the nearest part of the American Eastern seaboard to Europe. In terms of latency the connection from Long Island to London, through AEC-1 is the shortest path to the London internet exchanges. So we combined with DE-CIX, 1025Connect as our main location to terminate AEC-1, that’s on Long Island, it’s away from Manhattan problems that associated with fires in manholes, massively over built infrastructure that is crumbling frankly, in 60 Hudson and 111 Eighth Avenue, which operates but is very old infrastructure and has significant reliability issues.

So the brand was the Continental Edge and we were highlighting that the edge of the American continent is available there and not just for AEC-1 because there is a significant number of other subsea cables that terminate there. All separating away from New York with the lowest latency performance that the major European IP markets require. We’re not an IP party ourselves, we stay exactly within our remit which is undersea infrastructure so we partner with the likes of Zayo and Crown Castle for terrestrial infrastructure and we partner with the likes of 1025Connect for physical spaces. We don’t build our own data centres. So it was a group showing we’ve created a space for those requiring trans-Atlantic IP routes, to come and pick up high performance, low latency and very reliable connectivity.

 What are the key challenges in Europe from a subsea standpoint how is Aqua Comms handling them?

The big challenge in the Atlantic sea part of Europe is shallow water. There is a lot of shallow water and what that means is all of the submarine cable systems that were built in the early 2000’s into Cornwall have to transit approximately 1000km of shallow water.  Aqua Comms from the beginning chose to stay away from that kind of highly concentrated, highly overbuilt part of Europe which is the Cornish coastline and we chose to build into Ireland in a very short path through shallow water. Shallow water leaves cables very exposed to damage from ships and fishermen.

I think the structure of telecoms across the Atlantic is in one of the biggest fluxes it has seen for two to three decades. No longer is it the carriers of the country deciding to put multiple cables in the same place to make it convenient to pick up the traffic, now it’s some really big users deciding to spread the cables out. So you see that because of the influence of the OTTs there is a much more resilient landscape for trans-Atlantic telecommunications, which will bring more stability for probably the next five to ten years.  

How is Aqua Comms capitalising on its partnerships with OTTs in the subsea space?

We have exactly the same objectives as they do, which is high-quality, good price for submarine cable infrastructure only. What you don’t see is Google and Facebook, digging up the streets in France laying cables and ducts. They partner with people like Zayo and EU Networks, and what we’re doing is providing that partnership for subsea cables. Of course they could build their own, but why would they? Their business is apps, advertising and their content etc. Why would they spend a lot of time and money to become competent at operating cables? I think we provide them an operator capability in many cases. And we provide them with somebody that only operates in subsea cables and sells them in a carrier-neutral way to the rest of the market.

So you could argue that some people would get upset that OTTs are effectively dominating subsea space, well if they have a partner like Aqua Comms who makes available all of that cable capacity to the other carriers, we kind of helped the argument around their supposed blocking people out of the market. We provide to everyone in the market on a fair and equal basis – if they buy more they get a lower price, if they buy over a longer time they get a lower price.

We’re not a competitor of the carriers and sometimes that’s a hard message from them to get and it’s taken a few years for them to understand that we’re not competing with the likes of Orange and Vodafone because we’re just doing the subsea piece

What are your strategic priorities for Europe in 2019 at Aqua Comms?

For 2019, we have to land these cables so we’re actually doing 10 cable landings this year, which Is quite phenomenal. But we land all those in 2019 and put them into operation.

Our challenge then is to drive traffic from the North of Europe onto those cables and then look for areas to expand into because the Atlantic probably isn’t the end of the game for us. So you might see us move into the Mediterranean or you might see us move into other markets.