Headquartered in Nuuk, Greenland, Tusass is one of the country’s leading telecom service providers. Head of Tusass’ subsea business unit, Steen Hansen, caught up with Total Telecom about the company’s plans for improving Greenland’s international connectivity and explains the importance of keeping the region’s most remote areas connected.

Can you tell us more about the Tusass network and your current subsea cable investments?

Tusass is supplying the same type of telecom services that telecom operators/service providers in Europe are supplying to their customers.

The services are supplied through an access network based on 4G, 5G, fibre and copper to business and residential users. Tusass has decided that 4G and 5G should be the primary access technology for customers in settlements, towns and most cities, while fibre will primarily be used for business access and larger residential areas in the biggest cities.

The access network is supported by a backbone network based on satellite, microwave, and subsea cable. The satellite network is mostly covering the eastern and most northern part of Greenland supplying services to approximately 4,000 inhabitants. The microwave radio relay and the subsea cable is serving the west coast of Greenland from Narsaq Kujalleq in the south to Kullorsuaq in the north supplying services to approximately 52,000 inhabitants.

Along the Greenlandic west coast from PCS in the south to Upernavik in the north, there is a trunk microwave radio relay system of approximately 2,400 km with more than 50 unmanned repeater hill-sites and several connections to cities, towns, and settlements. The overall capacity varies between 1 Gbps and 10 Gbps depending on the area. The unmanned hill sites are powered using solar, wind turbine and standard generators. The settlements are connected to the trunk through a combined microwave radio relay of 1,800 km.

The subsea cable is 5,400km in length and is divided into two systems:

  • Greenland Connect; with 4,700 km interconnecting Qaqortoq and Nuuk with Iceland and Newfoundland, providing international gateways as well as a domestic connection between Qaqortoq and Nuuk.
  • Greenland Connect North; a domestic non-repeatered system of approx. 700km interconnecting Nuuk, Maniitsoq, Sisimiut and Aasiaat. The longest fibre path (non-repeatered) in this system is 495km.

Greenland Connect was established in 2007 – 2008 with RFS in Q1 2009. The overall investment was 140 million euros. Greenland Connect North was RFS in December 2017. The overall investment was 35 million euros.

There is a lot of activity and growth in the EMEA subsea cable market, but which regions need more investment? Why is international connectivity so important for these remote locations?

You are right, there is a lot of activity and growth in the EMEA subsea cable market. As I read the market, its seems as the biggest growth (and demand) is from the hyperscalers as well as data centre providers, while the demand from telecom operators either is the same or decreasing. Furthermore the demand is between countries with high populations, significant development, large business sectors as well as those where the major financial markets and assets are located. In these regions, it seems as though funding for subsea and terrestrial digital infrastructure is limitless as these markets have the customers, population, and growth to support the investments to fulfil the ever-growing demand.

However, remote regions are more or less forgotten as they do not hold an equivalent customer base or a commercially viable demand to attract similar investments in digital infrastructure.

The societies, inhabitants, residents and businesses in these remote regions require the same level of digitalisation as the rest of world, and especially as Europe. You could even argue that these remote regions require a higher degree of digitalisation to ensure the social interconnection between the population and government, between people and their families. This is due to a small population being scattered over a large geographical area, where transportation between settlements, towns and cities can be a huge challenge.

There is no doubt that a digital network with high-capacity services will support healthcare, education, business, and development. This is why these remote regions require domestic digital infrastructure. But without the international digital connections, the society will not be able to support the international co-operation, development and business with the rest of the world. Most of these remote areas don’t have the same resources within education, health, etc. as many countries in Europe, therefore these regions depend on co-operation with institutions and resources in Europe.

Damage to subsea cables can have a significant impact on remote communities, how is Tusass looking to mitigate this risk and protect its subsea infrastructure?

Greenland and Tusass have experienced a situation where the society was disconnected from the international world. Fortunately, the disconnection was for less than an hour, but it showed how dependent our society has become on both the domestic and international digital connection.

Tusass is monitoring our submarine cables corridors using AIS and this system is used to monitor the movements of vessels in order to contact them in case it seems that they are preparing to anchor or start fishing.

To mitigate other known risks in the Arctic areas (namely ice and icebergs), the cable corridors have been placed where icebergs aren’t stranding. Drifting ice, drifting sea ice and solid sea ice are not a danger to submarine cables. In the crossing from the sea to land we protect the cable landings by use of HDD (horizontal direct drilling) if there is even the slightest risk from sea ice.

In 2020, Tusass drafted a vision to mitigate the risk of losing domestic and international connectivity. This vision is the Tusass Connect Vision, enhancing the domestic resilience in our network as well as the resilience of our international connections by establishing additional submarine cable systems over time. As part of this vision we have looked into other regions, countries, and remote areas that, like Greenland and Tusass, might require additional international connection to enhance the resilience in their digital networks. It is our hope that we during 2023 can conclude on this interest.

What do the next 18 months look like for Tusass?

Whilst considering the digital submarine network, we are planning to carry out a marine route survey from Qaqortoq in the south to (at least) Ilulissat in mid-Greenland (Disco Bay) over the next 5 to 6 months. After this survey we expect to plan and design the terrestrial infrastructure for Tusass Connect between Qaqortoq and Disco Bay, with the objective of improving resilience in this area by 2026.

In parallel, we will continue to investigate the possibility of co-operation in the EMEA region to realise the vision set out in Tusass Connect Vision, in conjunction with or as a combined system.

We consider the Tusass Connect Vision as critical infrastructure for our society, which in itself isn’t a commercially viable system, but with a co-operation could combine both critical and commercial objectives for the greater good of the society and businesses.

What are you looking forward to about attending Submarine Networks EMEA 2023?

I am looking forward to meeting people and organisations with other submarine cable initiatives in the region and I am looking forward to learning about the developments taking place in this market.

Steen Hansen will be presenting Tusass Connect on 1st June at Submarine Networks EMEA 2023 (held on 31st May and 1st June at the Business Design Centre in London). To join Steen and 800+ attendees from the EMEA subsea cable market, head to the event website and book your ticket to the region’s leading subsea event.