Q&A with Cybernet and PEACE Cable

16 April 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Cybernet and PEACE Cable signed an agreement on the first day of Capacity North Africa to land the new open-access cable in Pakistan. Below, Danish Lakhani, CEO of Cybernet, and (further below) Wu Qianjun, CEO of PEACE Cable, answer questions about the project.

What is Cybernet’s position in the Pakistani market?

Danish Lakhani: Cybernet is amongst Pakistan’s oldest ISPs and has over 22 years of experience in building and running countrywide fibre broadband operations, IP/MPLS networks and cloud optimised data centres.

In addition to our leading consumer fibre broadband service, StormFiber, Cybernet also provides enterprise and carrier connectivity solutions to over 1,500 customers through our offices in 20 cities in Pakistan and a workforce of 1,200 employees.

Our wholly-owned subsidiary, RapidCompute, is Pakistan’s leading cloud computing service provider and provides mission critical cloud solutions to a range of organisations from established multinational firms to start-ups.

Why did you decide to go for a carrier-neutral, open-access approach?

Lakhani: Cybernet’s core mission is to bring affordable ultra-fast broadband on its fibre network and in partnership with mobile and other fixed-line carriers to the far reaches of our country.

We and our partners in PEACE believe that carrier-neutral and open-access is the most optimal approach to ensuring that the benefits of any submarine cable system can be extended to all sections of our society and to our neighbours.

For a developing country such as Pakistan, which is still under-served in terms of cables and capacity, carrier-neutrality is critical to ensuring that our economy is not held hostage to a few landing station operators – and that capacity is available at affordable rates to any operator which demands it.

As a result, Cybernet will be building Pakistan’s first carrier-neutral cable landing station (CLS) for PEACE cable by Q1 2020 in Karachi. The design and selection of the CLS site will allow local and global carriers, CDNs, content providers and virtually all IT enabled firms to tap into the submarine cable capacity at easily accessible interconnect points across Pakistan – thus enabling true carrier neutrality and open access.

An extra 96Tbps seems a lot? What are the opportunities for that capacity?

Lakhani: At present, only six submarine cables land in Pakistan and of these, a few are either approaching end of the life they were designed for or have little capacity to spare. Compare this to Oman, with a population 1/40th that of our country, which has 14 submarine cables landing in its territory.

Without additional cables, our country would be left in a vulnerable position without the necessary “raw material” to fuel our digital economy and the necessary redundancy to absorb any disruption resulting from unforeseen cable cuts.

The PEACE cable system and its 96Tbps capacity is a much-needed addition to Pakistan’s internet infrastructure and couldn’t be coming at a better time. With 70 million – and rapidly growing – mobile and fixed-broadband subscribers and a vibrant start-up and digital scene, Pakistan is witnessing a burgeoning demand for internet access across the spectrum of society.

This voracious appetite for bandwidth cannot be met by existing submarine cable systems alone. In addition, with its lower latency design – with less than 90ms latency from Karachi to Marseille – PEACE will improve the response time of internet-based applications hosted in European data centres, and in Far Eastern data centres in phase two, and the internet experience for Pakistani subscribers.

This is a huge win for Pakistan and its internet users and will only further fuel broadband adoption in our country – while contributing to increasing GDP, IT exports and total factor productivity.

Are there opportunities for connecting the cable into neighbouring countries across Pakistan’s border? If so, what are your plans?

Lakhani: The PEACE cable system strengthens Pakistan’s strategic position on the global connectivity map as it is the only international cable system to originate in Pakistan and connect the three most populous continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Cybernet has plans in place to expand its existing transmission infrastructure across Pakistan so that the benefits of the cable system can be extended to our neighbours in China and Afghanistan.

The PEACE cable will provide an express route to connect our neighbours to Africa and Europe, and to the Far East in phase two, with low latency and ultra-high capacity – providing a very competitive alternative to existing subsea and/or subterranean cable systems.

Is the PEACE cable on schedule and will all parts be ready for service in the first quarter of 2020?

Wu Qianjun: The PEACE cable was started in the end of 2017 and it’s been progressed as planned. The DTS report and the survey in the international water was finished last year. The submarine cable and the wet equipment was started to be manufactured in October 2018.

Up to now PEACE cable project is well managed and implemented on schedule. We are very confident and targeted the ready for service date of Q1 2020.

What is the biggest market opportunity for the PEACE cable?

Wu: PEACE is the privately-owned cable system that provides an open, flexible and carrier-neutral services for its customers. PEACE cable is targeted to be the first submarine cable with a smooth connectivity of Asia, Africa and Europe. We believe that PEACE cable will act as state-of-the-art infrastructure in this area and help our partners and customers for their global traffic demand.

What is the schedule for phase two to South Africa?

Wu: PEACE is targeted to deliver our phase two cable to South Africa in 2021.

What about connections to terrestrial cable operators in Africa, Asia or Europe?

Wu: Cooperating with our partners, PEACE keeps developing further to optimise our network coverage and strengthen our competitiveness of products.

We plan connection to terrestrial cable to extend PEACE cable to the neighbouring countries of the landing points. For example, in Pakistan PEACE will connect to China and Afghanistan. In Djibouti and Kenya PEACE will connect to Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Congo and even to the west coast of Africa through terrestrial cable in Africa.

And in France PEACE will also connect to other Europe countries through data centres and existing resource. All those connections will bring much more market opportunity for PEACE cable.

What are Hengtong’s long-term plans for the subsea cable industry

Wu: Hengtong is the first Chinese private company to invest in submarine cable. PEACE phase one is under construction and going on well, and phase two is also under planning.

We also have the blueprint that PEACE will involve in the submarine cable investment from East Africa to West Africa.

PEACE will also extend to South East Asia landing in Singapore, China and other countries, so that we will not only have the terrestrial connection also the submarine cable connection to link China to Africa and Europe.

At the same time, we aim at a new strategy to be a leading service provider in the area of information and communication and deem PEACE project as a strategic pivot for the Hengtong Group to grow from our experience as a subsea cable investor and look forward to identifying new investing opportunities in this market in the future.