Facebook taps NEC for EU-US subsea cable

Facebook taps NEC for EU-US subsea cable

08 October 2021 | Natalie Bannerman

Cover

Facebook Connectivity has awarded NEC Corporation (NEC) the contract to build an 'ultra-high performance' transatlantic subsea cable connecting the US and Europe.

According to the Asian cable vendor, historically subsea cables had a maximum of 16-fibre-pairs, but using NEC’s newly developed 24-fibre-pair cable and repeaters, the unnamed Facebook cable can deliver a maximum transmission capacity of a half Petabit per second, "the highest to date for a long distance repeatered optical subsea cable system".

The news comes as international data usage across the Atlantic is expected to increase 20-fold between 2021 and 2035.

In a media briefing earlier this week, Facebook Connectivity confirmed the system forms part of its strategy to connect "the next billion people" with its work today having connected more than 300 million since its inception in 2013.

“Through our connectivity efforts, we’ve helped accelerate more than 300 million people’s access to a faster internet, and we look forward to enabling affordable high-quality connectivity for the next billion,” said Dan Rabinovitsj (pictured), vice president of Facebook Connectivity.

In a news blog, Rabinovitsj said: "Our first-ever transatlantic, 24-fibre-pair subsea cable system will connect Europe to the United States.

"This new cable will provide 200 times more capacity than the transatlantic cables of the 2000s and builds on our recent news about 2Africa Pearls, the subsea cable connecting Africa, Asia, and Europe, and that will make the 2Africa cable system the longest in the world, and will provide connectivity for up to three billion people." 

“We have seen that economies flourish when there is widely accessible internet for individuals and businesses,” added Cynthia Perrett, Facebook’s fibre programme manager.

Aligned with this, Rabinovitsj shared that sections of the 2Africa subsea cable project will use a new aluminum conductor system, replacing old copper conductors, "which makes such a massive cable more economical to build".

Other subsea innovations from the Facebook Connectivity team include buoys that can deliver power to the repeaters from the middle of the ocean to overcome the existing capacity limitations caused by the amount of electricity that can be delivered from shore to a series of repeaters.

"We’re exploring more sustainable ways to do this, harnessing a combination of wave energy convertors and solar panels," added Rabinovitsj. "This unique solution will allow us to advance technology innovation as we evolve from .5 petabits per second to 5 petabits per second — that’s 10 times the capacity."

They also continue to develop how and where we place the cables, having built a predictive modelling tool, called the Atlantis model, "to help us forecast where subsea cable routes need to be built to ensure network availability during unexpected events".

At the same time, the company also announced the launch of Bombyx, a robot that can climb medium-voltage power lines and install fibre onto them, making fibre deployments more economical.

"Bombyx is lighter, faster, and more agile than our first-generation design. We are also making Bombyx fully autonomous, using machine vision sensors to help it better navigate around obstacles," explained Rabinovitsj.

Also, as current methods of deploying fibre are labour-intensive and costly, with each strand of fibre costing pennies per metre, while installation of the fibre costing between tens of dollars and hundreds of dollars per metre. The answer was of medium-voltage power lines, the kind you see at the top of a utility pole.

“In most of the world, medium-voltage power lines pass down almost every street. If we could find a way to add fibre to those power lines, we would have a solution that could be applied globally,” said Karthik Yogeeswaran, a wireless systems engineer at Facebook. 

Further, Bombyx uses advanced motion techniques to balance itself and to flip over as it moves over obstacles and wraps fibre around power lines. As a result, Utility companies that require fibre broadband to modernise their grid operations, have become increasingly interested in Bombyx.

“Bombyx offers utilities a tool to meet their grid modernisation needs and support broadband into their most rural areas at a lower cost to utility rate payers,” said Joshua Broder, CEO of Tilson.

Lastly Facebook Connectivity confirmed the launch of Terragraph, a wireless solution that beams multi-gigabit connectivity through the air. To date, Terrgraph has been used to deliver high-speed internet to more than 6,500 homes in Anchorage, Alaska, and deployment has begun in Perth, Australia.

"We license Terragraph for free to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). To date, these partners have shipped more than 30,000 Terragraph units to more than 100 service providers and system integrators around the world," adds Rabinovitsj.

Specifically, Terragraph uses transmitters on street fixtures and rooftops to create a distributed network for high-speed reliable connectivity in homes and businesses.

In addition, it is faster to deploy than trenched fibre because it builds on existing fibre points of presence and extends the capacity wirelessly, through nodes mounted on existing street fixtures.

“People are eager for even better ways to connect than what exists today, and there is still a lot to do to improve that digital experience,” said Mike Schroepfer, CTO of Facebook.

“A set of new virtual spaces — which many people are already calling the metaverse — will help answer this challenge. It will enable the next generation of online social experiences that are more engaging and immersive than we ever thought imaginable."