Unlimited Bandwidth

18 October 2021 | Melanie Mingas

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GlobalConnect Carrier is building a new high-capacity freeway between the Nordics and Central Europe that promises virtually unlimited bandwidth. CEO Regina Donato Dahlström tells Melanie Mingas about the developments driving the business case

GlobalConnect Carrier’s new digital highway will link Sweden to Berlin with G657A1 fibre installed across 2,500km of terrestrial micro ducts, as well as under the sea. It’s a mega-project that will be able to handle three million times more data than standard cables commonly used to connect private households – and it demonstrates the influence of hyperscalers in the Nordics.

GlobalConnect is building the 3,052Tbps-capacity network to a budget of €50 million. The project was announced in September – just ahead of the firm’s first anniversary – and is due to complete in 12 months, all going well. It’s the largest digital infrastructure project in the Nordics of recent years.

“This is our core strength – to project-manage major infrastructure projects,” says Regina Donato Dahlström, CEO of GlobalConnect Carrier, the EQT-owned group’s wholesale business.

“It’s a micro cable, so super-slim but very robust, obviously, and being slim enables quick and easier installation by blowing it into micro ducts. That is one of the reasons we can keep costs down in the installation process,” Dahlström explains, adding that the chosen approach means the cable can withstand any bending or disruption while in the ground.
It isn’t just that this new route will be deployed using innovative installation techniques; it’s the use of the G657A1 fibre that makes the project of particular interest to its target market.

“Basically, technically, that fibre offers almost unlimited bandwidth. That’s the quality,” Dahlström says.
The route (see opposite) begins close to the border between Sweden and Finland, travelling south via Sweden’s largest island, Gotland, and the neighbouring island of Öland. From there, it lands on the Danish island of Bornholm before reaching the north of Germany and continuing on to Berlin.

“That’s what the hyperscalers are looking for,” says Dahlström. “As many redundant routes as possible to connect the Nordics to Central Europe or to the UK. Even though this is just one piece of the puzzle, it is something that makes the project very attractive.”

Gateway to the Nordics

What the hyperscalers want the hyperscalers get, but the definition of a hyperscaler is changing and, in recent months, Dahlström says, the GlobalConnect Carrier team has observed a “major trend shift” in two of its focus areas.

“Traditionally, today, we serve hyperscalers, and they are the majority of our customers. But we are starting to see a new subset of customers who are not hyperscalers by tradition, but more traditional enterprises with needs that are similar to those of the hyperscalers,” says Dahlström, who refers to this subset as carrier-grade enterprises.

“It could be energy companies; I hope it could be AI in the future. Certainly the gaming and entertainment industries are hyperscaler-like, but I think if there is a major trend shift it would be customer segment and market segment rather than portfolio, from our point of view,” she adds.

This is the data boom that will be driven by future tech – IIoT, private networks, immersive experiences – and it’s one GlobalConnect is positioning to enable.

On that point, there are many more routes being requested by hyperscalers – and carrier-grade enterprises – so much so, Dahlström says, that there is another, albeit lesser, shift emerging. This one comes down to where the major markets are located and, in time, it is likely to see new destinations benefit from a trickle-down effect created by the aforementioned hyperscalers.

Serving that demand, the firm has a further 2,000km of cable projects under its belt, including two new Hamburg to Amsterdam routes – totaling 1,200km – and the 140km Kolding to Copenhagen route. Although that one is the shortest of the portfolio to date, it includes one new subsea cable and one new bridge crossing, and means there are three east to west routes in Denmark, giving improved connectivity to the subsea cable on the country’s west coast.

“I believe there has been a shift north on the global arena, previously connecting east to west and further south across the Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris (FLAP) region. We see a slight trend shift. Maybe we want to see it, but we also have a couple of proof cases,” she says.

Although “it’s a bit early to say FLAP is diminishing”, Dahlström says these four hotspots are “being complemented by an eight formation, or something similar, with the Nordics being connected to the UK islands”.

Dahlström says that, to create this, GlobalConnect “believes in connecting Finland out through the Russian border, potentially Poland, the Baltics, northern Europe – as in Germany – and being the interface to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and those former hotspots, then connecting to the UK islands”.

She adds: “That’s my belief, that’s our belief and that’s what we hear from the hyperscalers. So a slight shift up north is what we see.”

Although it’s also “a bit too early” to put specific figures on the growth that markets on this route could see, Dahlström says there is potential to leverage the hyperscalers’ Nordic investments and presence to build further business cases.

“That’s when we get into really interesting growth potential,” she says. “So, even though we are great fans of those customer relations, it’s not enough just to have a hyperscaler establishment; you need a spin-off effect where you can see there is more business in those regions and you can utilise their establishment by creating a unique route, like we have in this project.

“You need to add something more than just building infrastructure to a data centre – you need to widen the potential.”

Looking east

It isn’t just the European market focusing its attentions on the north. Active across Northern Europe, GlobalConnect Carrier arrived on the market in October of last year, following the merger of EQT’s GlobalConnect and IP-Only.

Intended to be a stand-alone venture, it leverages the scale of GlobalConnect and IP-Only and targets the tech giants that drive the region’s data centre and connectivity space. It offers a full suite of carrier services via more than 74,500km of fibre, 3,300 access nodes, and 16 data centres.

The central backbone network consists of a fibre ring that starts in Stockholm and circles back via Oslo, Gothenburg and Malmö, with a large number of city networks along the way. The backbone also connects Stockholm to Helsinki, on to the Russian border and submarine cable systems Malmö-Copenhagen, Väddö-Turku, Västervik-Visby and Oskarshamn-Visby. It’s available to carriers, operators or others who need a physical private network. Wholesale ethernet, wavelength and dedicated internet access are also in the offering.

“Many others are building IP networks or wavelength networks; we are actually focusing on the core, if you will,” Dahlström says of the pure dark fibre, ducts and “real deal” projects that GlobalConnect Carrier specialises in.

Before launch, a pan-Nordic team was recruited with competencies the firm knows it will need in certain markets. “The knowledge of the ducts in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and those specifics – and being able to look at the entire region as one – is our strength,” Dahlström says.

Dahlström and the team will now look at new opportunities and points of demand. On the capabilities the business may want to bolt on in future, she says: “We don’t have a very strong proposition eastward yet, so certainly Finland, potentially Poland, are interesting.”

Dahlström adds: “This is obviously market driven. We don’t do proactive speculative investments. But what we pick up on now is that something that would complement us very well would be to look eastward.”