Talking about latency and diversity with EllaLink’s CEO

Talking about latency and diversity with EllaLink’s CEO

28 September 2020 | Sponsored Q&A

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EllaLink network assures the lowest latency between Europe & Latin America.

Q. With an RFS date of 2021, can you share an update on the EllaLink subsea cable system?

EllaLink’s is progressing exceptionally well, especially when you consider the difficult circumstances being encountered wordwide. Our team have strived to keep the project moving and I am pleased to tell you that manufacturing activities are almost complete, with loading planned to start in October. The marine installation works will follow later this year, with commissioning activities immediately afterwards.  Our new cable station in Sines is now complete and we have started to install our terminal equipment. With activities being carried out either side of the Atlantic it is a busy and exciting time for us here at EllaLink.

Q. How has EllaLink ensured network diversity for with this new system?

Traditionally transatlantic submarine cable systems have taken a route across the North Atlantic from Europe to Canada, New Jersey, New York and more recently to Virginia Beach. Those wishing to reach Latin America would access onward connectivity via a separate cable system, predominantly headed to the Brazilian hotspots of Fortaleza, Rio de Janeiro and Praia Grande.  The primary focus of the EllaLink design was to offer a direct high-speed connection across a diverse transatlantic path for those wishing to reach Latin America directly from Europe, and vice versa.  

For diversity purposes in Portigal EllaLink is landing in Sines to avoid the busy areas of Sesimbra, Carcavelos and Seixal.  In Brazil it was desirable to come into the same beach in Fortaleza as a number of existing systems, mainly due to its suitability as a landing site and its proximity to the Telxius Cable Landing Station, but a new Beach Manhole and fronthaul route has been built to avoid local congestion and single points of failure. In Cabo Verde and Madeira, the landing points were chosen to provide diversity to the existing submarine cables that already land on the islands. 

Within the compound of the new Cable Landing Station in Sines diversity is also critical. A zero manhole to the North is used for the submarine cable with two separate manholes, one to the North East and the other to the South East for the two backhaul routes. This not only provides physical diversity between the submarine cable and backhaul cable entries into the CLS but also physical separation between the backhaul cables. Within the CLS itself the duct routes for each of these cables terminate in three separate rooms and therefore they remain fully diverse.

There are two physically diverse backhaul routes from the CLS to the Data Centers. One of these backhaul routes runs in underground ducts alongside a gas pipeline for approximately 90 km and then utilizes the Optical Ground Wire (OPGW) on the overhead electrical transmission lines to the Data Center in Lisbon. From here it uses the OPGW on the route from Lisbon to the Data Center in Madrid. The second backhaul route from Sines follows a diverse route from the CLS in underground ducts to an interconnection point with the overhead electrical transmission lines, on the ZILS industrial park. From here it utilizes the OPGW along the route to the Madrid Data Centre. Two discrete Data Center locations have been assigned in Madrid to allow for maximum connectivity and diversity.  As you can see, the EllaLink network has been engineered with reliability at the forefront, and diversity requirements have been considered wherever possible. 

Q. With the growing data demands with things like gaming, how has EllaLink ensured low latency along its route?

Current internet traffic is made up of 80% video, social and gaming, and 20% other applications. From a gaming perspective latency is extremely important as it plays a critical part in winning or losing a game. If we imagine two players aiming at same target at the same time, the differentiator between winning and losing will be who hits it first, and this is purely determined by latency. Lag, caused by a slow response, is the gamers worst enemy.  This logic and the requirement for low latency gaming connectivity applies to the most popular of on-line games, such as Fortnite, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Starcraft, OverWatch, etc.  When considering the need for new low latency routes globally it is important to look not only at where gaming is most popular, but also where servers are located and what languages are spoken. The connection between gamers in Brazil and Portugal is obviously strengthened by the common use of the Portuguese, and the Brazilian gaming market is vast, with Brazil currently ranked the 13th largest gaming market in the world and the third largest audience of the E-Sports market (behind China and the USA).

The main causes of latency in a network are propagation delay, routing & switching and queuing & buffering. Propagation delay is measured as a function of distance and wave propagation speed; the impact of route distance is the overriding consideration when trying to reduce latency in a network. The EllaLink network assures the lowest latency route between Europe and Latin America because it will be the only direct high capacity route in existence. Take for example a return circuit between Madrid and São Paulo, a direct route over the EllaLink system would take ≈104 milliseconds, compared to approximately 50% longer when routed over a subsea cable across the North Atlantic and then connected onwards via a regional system to Brazil. By reducing the system length EllalInk minimises the propagation delay of signals therefore improving latency and reducing lag that may occur in on-line games.

Q. Tell us more about EllaLink integrating SMART cable technology into its system through its EllaLink GeoLab initiative?

The EllaLink GeoLab is an initiative to unite the scientific and telecoms communities for the greater good. The importance of climate monitoring and disaster mitigation is well understood, and the possibility of using submarine cable systems to enable further studies into seismology, volcanology, marine ecology and oceanic conditions has been discussed throughout this century. The term “SMART” is used in reference to Science Monitoring and Reliable Telecommunications cables. The International Telecommunication Union, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the World Meteorological Organization established a Joint Task Force on SMART cable systems in late 2012. Despite drawing a lot of interest worldwide from both scientists and telecoms owners, little real progress has been made in terms of deployment. Concerns exist about the impact on system reliability of adding active sensors to optical repeaters, security and privacy of commercial traffic, difficulties of data sharing, and of course the question of who will pay for the technology, have held back progress.
The Portuguese Telecom Regulator (ANACOM) have long been a supporter of the SMART cable concept, and EllaLink were keen to find a solution to realise their ambition. EllaLink is the world’s first commercial telecoms system to incorporate SMART cable concepts, and the EllaLink GeoLab offers a truly unique way to collect and share the data through the existing networks of our colleagues at GEANT and FCT. Passive and non-intrusive Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) technology will be used to collect data along the cable route to Madeira, which will be optically transmitted back to the shore, independently and without impacting either telecoms traffic or the design life of the cable. DAS technology can be used to detect earthquakes, measure oceanographic conditions and monitor mammal activities. Also, of interest to cable owners is DAS’s ability to monitor activities which threaten the integrity of the cable system, such as trawling, anchor drops, dredging activities, etc. The EllaLink GeoLab will be hosted by EMACOM in Funchal and represents a truly unique way to best support the interests of two very diverse communities.

Q. Looking ahead, what’s next for EllaLink in it cable development?

EllaLink subsea developments include the construction of several branches to Morocco, Mauritania, and Canarias in the coming year. Medium term, our aim remain to extend the system to Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Kourou (French Guinea). These developments represent a very significant extension of our reach and will provide our customers with enhanced connectivity between Europe, Northern Africa and Latin America. On the terrestrial part, our plan includes the opening of several new PoPs in the coming year such as Marseille, Barcelona, Paris, London and Frankfurt.