The pandemic has driven data traffic in 2020 to accelerate rapidly, a trend that is expected to continue – but how can submarine networks cope with ever increasing demand?
Data demand is skyrocketing all over the world, with the advent of the coronavirus accelerating a trend which was already well understood. But, with demand rising faster than ever, what does the submarine cable industry need to do to handle this increasing pressure? Will upgrading existing cable systems be enough handle the task before them, or will we see cables necessitated all over the world?
These are the crucial questions that were up for discussion in Total Telecom’s latest webinar, “Submarine networks in the time of Covid.” The session, moderated by Infinera’s Director of Solutions and Technology, Geoff Bennett, brought together two major figures from the subsea industry space to consider the landscape in terms of supply and demand.
Seaborn Networks’ co-founder and COO, Andy Bax, approached the challenging landscape from the perspective of a cable operator, discussing the rise in demand and the economic viability of existing cables.
“Demand is huge and is growing year-over-year – compound annual growth rates of up to 50%. The challenge is, as those markets further develop and bandwidth appetite increases, the anticipated cost of that bandwidth is going down, almost at the same rate,” explained Bax.
When asked about the value of older cables versus building new ones, he highlighted that a novel build can often be more attractive financially than supporting existing infrastructure.
“It’s not that they [existing, older cables] stop working,” he explained. “Its just that they become more difficult to operate and less viable from a commercial perspective. The unit cost you can get on a newer cable is actually lower than the operation and maintenance cost of an older cable.”
But for Bax the real challenge here is less about the building or not building new cables, but rather striking a balance in terms of a route’s life-cycle, ensuring that it remains ahead of the game in terms of capacity.
“The challenge is to maintain the life-cycle of a route – not necessarily the cables themselves – so that as new technology and new cables facilitate more bandwidth, users and operators can begin to think about slowing growth or even turning a cable off, because it would be more cost effective with a new cable system,” he said. “The balance is really important. You can’t turn off supply during a period of transition. You have to make it through that period first and then gracefully migrate out of the old supply.”
Bax’s counterpart on the panel, Infinera’s Senior Director of Product Management Moran Roth, said that there was still plenty of economic viability in upgrading existing cables using the latest technology.
“It is all about the economic viability of cables,” said Roth. “One of the methods is to bring more capacity into the existing systems and leveraging existing instalments in a more effective way. Newer generations of transponders, for example, can significantly lower the cost-per-bit in deployments.”
Furthermore, he highlighted how there needed to be a shift in the way that these cables are planned, with more focus given to scaling up cables capacity over time to meet the inevitable surge in demand.
“Typically, a cable system design is based on end-of-life margins. This doesn’t really give an optimal performance,” he argued. “If we can be more dynamic in the way that we are approaching design at the beginning of life, there are a lot of margins that we can take advantage of.”
This exciting webinar is available in full for free. Register here to watch now.