Ahead of Submarine Networks EMEA 2020, Total Telecom caught up with Andy Palmer-Felgate – Submarine Cable Engineer at Facebook to hear his insights into the current trends in the submarine cable industry. 


What would you say have been the biggest developments in the EMEA subsea market since Submarine Networks EMEA 2019?  

There seems to be more impetus in the market to overbuild some of the established short-haul European unrepeatered routes with new cables. For longer cables the advent of Spatial Division Multiplexing (SDM) means that most future trans-oceanic cables will be aiming for higher fibre counts than we’ve seen historically.  


Facebook has been a driving force behind a number of new cable builds in 2019 with more in the pipeline for 2020. Can you tell us more about what’s in store for Facebook in the coming months?  

We continue to work closely with our turnkey system suppliers to complete key in-build projects that will link Facebook data centres in Europe and USA.  At the same time, we are working on several ways to increase capacity and diversity via planned new builds and upgrades.


What new technology are your particularly interested in at the moment?  

I am interested in technology that can either automate or assist with making smarter decisions.  We’re seeing this filter through the submarine cable industry in several areas, from optimising wet plant line design to improving the way ships deploy cable at sea.  Introducing new software intelligence is a natural progression but it does need to be weighed carefully with skilled and experienced human resource, which emphasises the importance of attracting, training and developing a new generation of engineers.


What are your predictions for the subsea sector over the course of the next 12-18 months?

I expect to see multiple new cables come into service over this time, which will provide resiliency over very high capacity cables on key routes. It will be very interesting to see the impact these have on the market and whether older cables can remain viable when their O&M costs cannot go much lower, yet the price of capacity will continue to fall.


You’re joining a panel at the conference on “The evolution of marine cable maintenance”; what do you see as being the major changes to the current models of maintenance and what do these changes mean for the industry?  

The maintenance business is seeing a few changes with the launch of a small number of new or newly converted ships.  Some of the agreements are aiming for higher utilization of vessels as we have seen with ACMA now serving the European wind farm cable repair market in addition to telecoms.  It will be interesting to see how repair rates change as some older systems reach retirement, and whether this will drive further need for ships to serve multiple industries in order to achieve the same or improved economics and service levels that we see today. Alternatively, we may see some convergence to improve efficiency, but ultimately it is a fine balance between ensuring a competitive market and opening up access to all available repair resources within a given region.

Submarine Networks EMEA conference

Andy will be speaking at Submarine Networks EMEA 2020 on 18th and 19th February. With 500 attendees, the event has successfully established itself as the leading annual subsea gathering for the EMEA region. Click here to find out more