In the run up to Submarine Networks EMEA 2020, Total Telecom spoke with Anders Ljung, Business Manager, Submarine Cable Systems at Hexatronic to hear his thoughts about current activity in the unrepeatered market.

1.Here at Total Telecom we are very excited about your forthcoming unrepeatered cable round table at Submarine Networks EMEA, can you tell us more about the topic and its significance?

Unrepeatered cables form an important part of submarine connectivity but have long gone unscrutinised by the industry, largely due to their simplicity. We felt that the role they play in both regional subsea connectivity and supporting telecoms infrastructure within sister networks such as oil & gas, renewables and power cables was too significant to go undiscussed.  Submarine Networks EMEA is attended not only by many of the specialist unrepeatered cable suppliers such as Hexatronic, NSW and Nexans, but also by customers and consultants working in the telecoms, power and renewable space.  

Together with Eckhard Bruckschen, SubCableNews, who brings expertise in the offshore cable market, we are hosting a round table session which aims to both educate and debate the pros & cons of unrepeatered systems.  The session, which will tackle ‘Design, development and disaggregation’ is on the 18th February at 12:20.

2.Disaggregation is certainly a hot topic at the moment, what is its specific relevance to the unrepeatered market?

The supply market for subsea cable systems is changing at a rapid pace. Over the past few years we have seen several exchanges of company ownership, a vast increase in vessel utilisation and after a long period of stagnation wet plant development is finally picking up speed.  All these changes have resulted in rapid changes to lead times for projects and in many cases price increases. Purchasing methodologies are starting to be reviewed and the disaggregated model for supply, vs. more traditional turnkey supply, is looking more interesting.   

Unrepeatered systems were the original Open Systems owing mainly to their passive nature. Combine this with the fact that most systems are supplied by separate cable providers and marine installers and we have a disaggregated approach to system build.  In today’s busy market, utilising vessels of opportunity or taking advantage of short lead times for unrepeatered cable supply offers many advantages to customers. Here at Hexatronic our subsea focus is on what we do best, providing durable and reliable high fiber count cable solutions, and we are happy to partner with marine installers and equipment vendors alike in order to help our customers achieve the end to end system that best suits their needs.

3.Tell us more about the role unrepeatered cables play in the offshore energy sector?

Unrepeatered connectivity plays an important part in providing telecommunications links in many other markets. Festoon type arrangements have been used historically for connecting oil & gas platforms, and for power systems integrated fiber optic cable packages can be supplied and installed as part of the power cable itself.  

Repeatered cable systems obviously require power which creates potential risks when connecting to an oil platform. There have also been historical concerns relating to repeater placement next to power cables, and the potential complexity of a repair operation adds further concern.  Passive unrepeatered cables are very well suited to support the offshore energy sector.  Hexatronic have a twenty-year long history with this market and have supplied over 5000km of subsea fiber optic cables for this specific purpose.  We also supply a number of energy utilities with interconnect links between countries, as well as offshore wind parks where fiber optic cables are integrated into the AC cables used for power connectivity.  

4.Similar to the growth seen in the subsea telecoms market we have also seen a surge in offshore energy projects in EMEA, can you tell us about any that Hexatronic are involved with?

Yes, we are pleased to have been contracted by NKT (former ABB) for the second phase of the Johan Sverdrup oil field in the North Sea. In 2017/2018 Hexatronic successfully delivered 200 km of armored cable to phase 1 of the project and we will supply the second phase, another 200 km of armored cable, in 2020.  

NKT provides the HVDC links from the shore to the development. All the installed cables will supply the development with communications and electricity from the onshore grid. Utilising power from the shore to run the oil platforms, instead of using local generation, considerably lowers CO2 emissions.  Another great example of unrepeatered telecoms technology being integrated into other sectors.

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

On the subsea side we see a significant number of unrepeatered opportunities across the EMEA region and further afield. There will always be a requirement for short hop connectivity which offers advantages in terms of cost, timescales and complexity. It will be interesting to see if SDM and the subsequent reduction in per fiber pricing that it offers has an effect on the unrepeatered market. I suspect not as participating in larger trunk and branch systems for connectivity will not suit everyone’s needs.
Festoon systems will continue to rival terrestrial alternatives in locations where it is expensive to build in-land, and there will always be rivers, lakes and harbours to cross!  Here at Hexatronic we will continue to support the power, offshore wind and oil & gas industries globally. Our focus on the subsea cable sector remains strong and we plan to continue working with our customers and partners embracing the significant growth that we see across this market for the next few years.
Submarine Networks EMEA 2020
Hexatronic are joining Submarine Networks EMEA 2020, on 18th and 19th February in London, as a Bronze Sponsor. Anders Ljung of Hexatronic and Eckhard Bruckschen, Managing Director of SubCableNews will be co-moderating a roundtable discussion on "Unrepeatered cables – design, development and disaggregration". Head over to the event website to keep up to date with the conference and find out how to attend.