From technological innovation to sustainability, the submarine cable industry continues to evolve rapidly

In the run up to Submarine Networks EMEA 2022 next month, we caught up with Lynsey Thomas from Subsea Networks to hear her take on the biggest topics in the global submarine cable market.  

In your view, what is the most exciting thing happening in the industry right now?
It is really great to see all the projects that have been in the planning, financing and design phases starting to come to fruition. LinkedIn is scattered with images of new shore end landings and final splice deployments, all across the globe. Seeing the teams who have worked so hard to deliver these projects, especially in the recent challenging times, is very uplifting.  
Similarly, we are seeing an increase in the deployment of SDM systems, and learning how to address the new issues faced by high fibre count designs is interesting; how and what should be tested at acceptance being a particularly important question, especially for multi-landing designs with numerous discrete fibre pair owners.  Creating a new ‘norm’ is always a challenge but the subsea industry can collaborate effectively when it is required for the greater good.
NO-UK Shore End Landing in Seaton Sluice, UK
Sustainability is a key priority at the moment. What does a “sustainable” submarine cable market look like to you?
In recent years the effects of global climate change and environmental degradation have become clear to all of us. The 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs) developed by the United Nations address this, alongside a much wider spectrum of areas affecting sustainability, such as poverty, gender equality, consumption & production and economic growth.  In our industry in particular we need address sustainability within the supply chain, from materials and manufacturing to recycling, from alternative types of vessel fuel to use of renewable energy. Owners also need to employ the same concepts within their operations – from Data Centre to office block – sustainable working practices should now be commonplace.
We are looking at this subject further as part of SubOptic 2022 where Elena Badiola and myself are co-chairing the topic area “Clean Green Submarine – connecting and protecting people and the planet”, which aims to address the environmental and social responsibility of the subsea community. This encompasses subjects such as the use of renewable energy in telecoms networks, development and implementation of sensor technology, ocean observatories, SMART cables and green initiatives for marine survey, installation & operations.  On a similar theme, submarine cable decommissioning, recovery, recycling and redeployment also falls within this topic. From a citizenship perspective aspect, we hope to address areas such as harmony amongst seabed users, meeting requirements of environment agencies, educating governments, communities and the public at large about subsea systems. As we all know, creating the next generation of subsea work force and ensuring diversity and inclusion within organizations are also crucial for creating a sustainable community. 
What are your predictions for the subsea industry over the next 12-18 months? 
I think we can expect to see the on-going construction and implementation of the many new planned and funded projects that have been discussed over the last few years. What will be very interesting is to see where and how new routes start to develop, if and when they do. There has been a lot of trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific focus of late, and developments in Europe and the Middle East are in full swing. Where will the market drive new subsea builds next, and will there be the same level of momentum to deliver multiple diverse SDM systems along similar routes? 
Supply limitations and increased demand has driven price increases throughout the supply chain, and in some cases been the cause of delay. It is perhaps time to take stock on where new connectivity is actually required, assess the real scale of the capacity that is needed and develop projects based on realistic delivery timescales;  after all nobody likes a signed contract that never comes into force, or a plan of work that cannot be met.
There is still a lot of important work to be performed by the subsea cable industry to educate, communicate and collaborate with governments, permitting & environmental agencies and other seabed users to ensure that systems can continue to be successfully deployed and operated without risk or delay. We have all seen how issues within these areas can affect cable projects, and we all have a duty of care to act in the best interests of our community, as well as the global community at large.
From a technological standpoint there have been great strides made in the last five years from ROADM BUs to SDM to Aluminium cable, and as much as I long to see what’s next, the cautious part of me would like to see all these new technologies bedded down before we take our next leap forwards. It has been great to see the system suppliers challenged by the hyperscalers to develop more innovative technologies, and I am pleased that all of the main turnkey vendors have risen to the challenge.
You’ll be joining a panel at Submarine Networks EMEA 2022 in May on “Weathering the storm: successfully managing projects from contract to completion”. Can you share a preview of what key challenges you’ll be looking to unpack during the discussion?
There are certainly a lot of challenges to be discussed; from contracting, project funding, construction, permitting and regulation, to design and geopolitics. I am looking forward to hearing from experts, all of whom are currently engaged in large-scale construction projects across the globe. It’s always interesting to hear about the specific issues faced in particular regions, from North Sea cable crossings to congested landing points, and between Maja Summers, Katherine Edwards, Cynthia Perret and Alice Shelton, I think we will be able to cover a lot of different aspects of the project lifecycle.
What are you looking forward to most about attending Submarine Networks EMEA 2022?
I’m especially looking forward to meeting up with people I have been collaborating closely, albeit virtually, with over the last two years. Project managing system builds remotely has been proved to be possible, but it certainly lacks the thrill of being on-site to witness the fruits of your labour. It will be great to get together with all the people who have worked so hard on projects recently and to celebrate their success.
Lynsey Thomas, SubSea Networks
Having been involved with the subsea telecommunications industry since 1995 Lynsey’s previous roles include VP Global Sales for Xtera, Director of Operations for Apollo SCS Ltd and Department Head for the Cable & Wireless Submarine Systems Engineering team. During her time at C&W Lynsey worked on the Europe India Gateway system, leading the Commercial Working Group and co-chairing the Purchaser Group from conception through to contract. Having worked worldwide as a supplier, customer, operator and consultant, she has an extensive knowledge of the telecoms market. Lynsey has served as a trustee in the renewables sector and is a freelance writer and previous columnist for The Guardian.
Submarine Networks EMEA 2022 will be taking place at the Business Design Centre in London on 17th and 18th May. Join Lynsey and 600 other industry leaders at the EMEA region’s leading subsea conference to discuss the latest updates and developments from the industry. Head to the event website for more information on how to get involved.