Smart Submarine Infrastructure

Smart Submarine Infrastructure - The Future of Global Connectivity

28 May 2021 | Ian Clarke


Ian Clarke

Blog Author | vice president, global submarine systems, Ciena


Contrary to popular belief, satellites account for a miniscule part of keeping the world connected

The reality is that submarine cable networks actually do the heavy lifting—all from the depths of the ocean floors. However, as we increasingly rely on the internet and use higher bandwidth applications, it is important that submarine infrastructure can continue to support this growth. Much of the demand for submarine network capacity is driven by Internet Content Providers (ICPs) whose data centres have massive amounts of traffic flowing between them to enable a variety of applications and use cases, such as social media, video streaming, and cloud services. However, with this level of demand, we need to determine if submarine cables are future ready.

There are multiple factors to consider, such as deployment speeds, market demands, and whether innovative solutions can be added to fulfil new needs that may arise. Submarine cables can take years to build, so new cables must be as scalable as possible, while enabling solutions to be added down the line that will maximise lifecycle and ROI. The submarine network industry has experienced several technological advancements in recent years, however the most notable are the development of coherent optical modems and the rise in open submarine cables.

Coherent optical modems leverage numerous technologies that allow operators to massively increase the information-carrying capacity of both existing and new submarine cable networks and reduce costs. As we continue to use more applications with the arrival of 5G and as more IoT devices make their way into the marketplace, the ability to extend capacity is becoming critical. As part of this development, these technologies include Soft-decision Forward Error Correction (FEC), Probabilistic Constellation Shaping (PCS), and machine learning–based link monitor metrics that are accessible via open APIs. The efficiency of the modems makes them a valuable submarine cable upgrade in an era of hyperconnectivity, as they allow for cost savings to be reinvested into further innovation.

Additionally, through the development of open submarine cables, operators can now combine modern coherent modems with their solution of choice. The benefits of open cables have become generally accepted within the submarine cable industry. Historically, the market has provided closed and proprietary turnkey solutions that included both the wet plant and Submarine Line Terminal Equipment (SLTE). However, advancements now enable operators to choose what they see as the best wet plant from one vendor and the best SLTE from another—essentially providing more choice and allowing a best-in-breed decision. This also eliminates vendor lock-in, creates a more secure vendor supply chain, and generates broader competition, resulting in faster innovation. As an example, a new generation of Spatial Division Multiplexing (SDM) wet plants are being introduced, yielding a much greater overall cable capacity. With the open cable model, operators can implement SDM cables with the latest coherent modems to achieve unprecedented cable capacity. Given the wet plant is typically purchased well before it’s actually laid across a transoceanic route, operators can choose their SLTE when they actually need it to ensure the latest generation of SLTE is deployed.

The need for increased capacity is not going away anytime soon, so innovation must continue. Ultimately, the next generation of submarine networks must become ever more adaptable to address shifting demands in capacity and traffic patterns. Based on programable infrastructure guided by data-driven analytics, intelligent automation, and the principles of openness, security, and scalability, networks that can adapt are designed to rapidly scale, self-configure, and self-optimise by constantly assessing pressures and demands. Solutions that allow network operators to build networks—overland and undersea—that are faster, smarter, and simpler should become a part of any ongoing upgrades to submarine infrastructure. This will allow network providers to address voracious bandwidth demand in a highly reliable and cost-effective manner.