EllaLink: 72Tbps cable system on track to be RFS by 2020

25 July 2019 | Jason McGee-Abe

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Jason McGee-Abe spoke to Philippe Dumont, Group CEO, to find out more.

I start our meeting by asking Dumont where he’s based. He jokingly responds: “I’m based on the plane.” This is simply because of the extensive travelling he undertakes to visit key locations along the 9,300km cable system, the company’s headquarters in Ireland, and t be with his family in France.

It’s been a very busy year-and-a-half for the former Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks (ASN) president and CEO. He first joined the project in January 2018, initially as a consultant, to support the preliminary due diligence that was being completed by the Marguerite infrastructure fund.

After just a couple of months, the original developers of the company proposed to Marguerite, which is the majority investor of the cable, that Dumont lead the project. From March 2018, as a result of his experience and network of the subsea cable industry, that wish was realised. EulaLink, the developer and holding company of EllaLink, appointed him as its new chief executive officer and he was elected to its board of directors.

“Since then, the challenge has been to contractualise and sign all the agreements that were on the table in January 2018.” These are needed to instigate the build of the cable, so I ask him what the take up has been like. “It’s been very successful,” he retorts. “There was one draft contract in place when I took over the project and we signed everything outstanding around September 2018.”

As it’s a private cable, there was a lot of documentation to collate and process but it was completed on 31 December 2018 and the cable was contracted into force. Since then, the main areas of focus for the Group CEO has been “to organise the group project management (GPM) of the cable itself”. Dumont says: “We entered the two-year build phase of the cable at this time but there was a lot to do. You have to manage your sub-contractor, ASN being the main one for us, but there are many things around cable landing stations and terrestrial backhauls, to name just two things, to take into account.”

ASN has now finalised the cable route study now and mobilised the marine survey vessel for the EllaLink submarine cable system. The survey will be performed over the coming months and permit acquisition continues in line with EllaLink’s plans to be ready for service (RFS) by the end of 2020.

EllaLink is a state-of-the-art four fibre pair submarine cable system designed to satisfy the growing demand for traffic and offer a secure high capacity connectivity on a unique low latency transatlantic route between Europe and Latin America.

By March 2019, Dumont brought in the right level of expertise and number of people for the project. But what’s the current strategy? “At this moment we’re not necessarily focused on selling capacity – 10G or 100G – we’re still trying to sell more branches on the cable or more fibres. These usually consist of $10+ million sales,” Dumont tells Capacity.

One such example is the announcement that EMACOM is looking to enhance its partnership, which presently consists of one fibre pair that will be able to carry 24Tbps. This will help to meet the growing capacity demands of the islands of Madeira. Dumont adds: “EMACOM now has an increased share in the EllaLink cable system. Additional fibre pairs at a very competitive price will position Madeira as an ideal regional hub, offering direct connections to Portugal and onwards to Spain, Cabo Verde and Brazil.”

EMACOM is exploring taking a second and third fibre pair at present. Cabo Verde Telecom (CVT) and EllaLink have also signed an agreement to deliver connectivity from Europe and Latin America to Cabo Verde via the EllaLink submarine cable system. The low latency EllaLink route avoids the congestion of the North Atlantic by offering the first ever direct fibre pair between the two continents. The EllaLink network directly connects Brazil and Europe linking the major hubs of São Paulo and Fortaleza with Lisbon, Madrid and Marseille.

Once live, it will enable low latency, data privacy and high capacity transmission for a broad range of customers between the major financial and population centres of Europe, South America and the Caribbean.

So what other regions is Dumont looking at? “We’re not looking to go to a brand new region but we’re looking at the connectivity options on the northwest coast of Africa on the Atlantic side,” he responds. “We’re looking at entering the market there as lots of people there are limited by their subsea cable capacity choices.”

But when will EllaLink start to get contracts in place? “We’ll be trying to tie up agreements for our North Africa extension by the end of this June,” he answers “as he hopes to freeze in the design with ASN before the end of June”.

This means the CEO will no doubt be rolling up his sleeves at ITW in Atlanta to ensure EllaLink’s partners and customers don’t miss out. Capacity’s Subsea EMEA event in Marseille will also provide a platform for Dumont and his team to advertise the latest developments to its partners and customers.

“If you say EllaLink serves as a direct connection between Europe and Latin America, bypassing the US, then one of the key markets for us is Marseille,” Dumont adds. But why? Marseille has vast amounts of traffic coming in from Asia and “the number one investors in SEA-ME-WE 5 and AAE-1 are the Chinese operators, so EllaLink is a very attractive proposition for them”. If we can move the traffic from Marseille to Latin America via Portugal, without touching the US, this becomes a very significant strategic route.

The EllaLink Group is planning two extensions from Fortaleza. The first is to São Paulo and the second named ‘GuyaLink’, which is a branch of the EllaLink system that will start at the nose of Fortaleza and go to French Guyana. French Guyana is home to the European Space Agency spaceport (CNES). “GuyaLink isn’t really being driven by traffic demand, as there’s very little capacity required, it’s more strategic,” the CEO adds.

“Traffic from French Guyana will go directly to Europe without any stops, which is hugely beneficial when compared to the existing route of Fortaleza to Miami and then on to Europe.” It’s currently an expensive route with poor latency and inadequate security. Dumont tells me GuyaLink received €25 million of funding to help the system, which leads me to ask how much the system has called roughly to date. Dumont responds: “Without the Guyana link extension, it is in the range of just above €150 million.”

Dumont says it’s not just about latency but price: “If you’re in Europe and you want to bring traffic to South America, we’re going to be the cheapest alternative in the market for sure.” Overall, it’s a great time for the subsea world, with many cables being built.

The fact that the EllaLink has finalised so many contracts ahead of the cable system’s RFS date is quite simply testament to how important this strategic low latency route will become. We look forward to seeing how much this will boost the industry.

View this big interview as a digital page in the June/July edition of Capacity magazine and see what other great articles you may have missed out on!