Sparkle lights up the sea with BlueMed

24 May 2019 | Natalie Bannerman

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April 2019 saw Sparkle, the international service provider arm of TIM Group, announce plans to build a new 1,000km system that will cross the Tyrrhenian Sea linking Sparkle’s Sicily Hub data centre in Palermo to Genoa’s new open cable landing station.

Sparkle is the Italian company that laid the first trans-Atlantic cable to South America, back in 1925 and today boasts one of the largest and most advanced submarine cable networks in the world, made up of private, bilateral and consortium cables.

Speaking exclusively to Capacity about the BlueMed project, Giuseppe Valentino, strategic marketing director, explains what the key drivers were behind the build of this new infrastructure.

“Multiple drivers brought us to conceive BlueMed,” says Valentino. “First of all, the intention to offer reliable and fast solutions to meet the growing demand for sophisticated connectivity within the Mediterranean basin.”

In addition, he says that there is an increasing demand from operators to reach the main European hubs with the lowest possible latency. With 18 operational submarine cable systems landing in Sicily today, it its quickly becoming a key gateway from Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific.

“BlueMed will offer a new route from Sicily to Milan, one of the leading IP gravity hubs in Europe, offering route diversity and adding additional resiliency and scalability to the traditional terrestrial Italian paths,” he adds. “The Tyrrhenian Sea offers a much shorter path that translates into an impressive performance improvement, with the latency between Palermo and Milan cut by 50%.”

One completed BlueMed will be a multi-fibre submarine cable with an initial capacity of 240Tbps, supporting WSS ROADM technology to flexibly reconfigure the optical spectrum on each fibre pair.

“The system will support the new open cable technology, enabling our partners and customers to use their preferred equipment provider: multi-vendor SLTE solution can be deployed by each fibre pair owners,” explains Valentino.

At the time of the announcement, CEO Mario Di Mauro, said that the new system is part of a wider plan for Sparkle through the ‘extension and enhancement of its regional backbone’ querying Valentino on this statement he says reaffirms that BlueMed is a part of Sparkle’s plan to build out infrastructure in the region.

“All submarine cables from Africa, the Middle East and Asia to Europe are laid west of Sardinia and follow, North of Sicily, exactly the same path heading up to Marseille,” he says. “By deploying a scalable and multi-tenant system from Palermo to Genoa passing East of Sardinia, BlueMed will create a new corridor and accommodate new extensions Southeast of the basin while guaranteeing complete diversification to the overcrowded West corridor.”

As if that were not enough, Sparkle is also working on designing possible branching units within the Tyrrhenian Sea to enhance specific domestic connectivity needs.

In terms of the landing preferences of the system, BlueMed will use a combination of both direct data centre connectivity and an open cable landing station approach.

“BlueMed will be directly connected to Palermo Sicily Hub, a key open ecosystem in the Mediterranean basin, and, thanks to our metro ring capillarity, to the largest Milan telehouses, where a rich multi-breed environment guarantees one of the highest IP density and gravity in Europe.”

“In addition, Sparkle’s open cable landing station in Genoa will support the landing facilities -like the high voltage power required to feed the submarine system and grant multi-provider backhauls as well as a flexible and scalable optical interconnect platform,” he says.

As a result of this need for increasing diversification and to combat single points of failure Sparkle strongly believes that Genoa is well placed to become the big submarine cable hub and is  why its chosen to deploy its cable landing station there.

“We strongly believe that Genoa landing station can play a strategic role for players looking for a reliable alternative landing,” adds Valentino. “Genoa is set to become the alternative priority access for upcoming submarine cables, offering a high value gateway to mainland Europe.”

Like many other key players in the market Sparkle cannot overlook the impact OTT’s have made on the sector with lots of synergies and opportunities to be explored.

“On the one side OTTs’ massive investment capabilities have introduced a disruptive mechanism in the traditional telco business model for submarine systems,” says Valentino. “On the other hand it offers carriers interesting opportunities to find synergies with OTTs in investment sharing all while supporting their needs for landing, backhaul and maintenance capabilities.”

Content players aside, the world continues to prepare for the advent of 5G as well as other emerging technologies like AI and IoT. Though often left out of the conversation, subsea will undoubtedly play an integral part in that and according to Valentino will drive the need for more infrastructure.

“Emerging technologies such as AI and IoT going live translate in increased demand for connectivity and in more sophisticated performance requirements in terms of latency and resiliency,” he explains. “Submarine cable systems are the primary vehicle of global Internet traffic and the most efficient way to respond to these new needs.”

With a RFS date of 2020, and additional phases of the project soon to be announced its fair to say that Sparkle has its hands full, but ever determined the subsea roadmap is still developing.

BlueMed is one of the new projects Sparkle is investing in, while other strategic developments are in pipeline supporting our mission, says Valentino. “Sparkle has submarine cables in its DNA.”