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Cable Connect: Submarine network industry on a high-growth path

July 31, 2012

In the last few years, the Indian submarine cable industry has witnessed a lot of activity, fuelled by the demand for additional capacity. The exponential increase in demand for international voice and data transmission stems from the fact that Indian enterprises are going global and many multinational corporations are setting up shop in the country.

This signals good news for long distance operators like Bharti Airtel, Tata Communications and Reliance Communications (RCOM), which spent the better part of 2011 aggressively building up their cable capacity.

According to TeleGeography, in the coming years, this space is set to witness further expansion with the demand for international bandwidth expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 83 per cent between 2009 and 2015.

tele.net takes a look at the recent developments in this space...

Current status

Currently, India is connected to the rest of the world via 12 submarine cable systems. Of these, six are owned by various consortiums while the remaining cables are privately owned.

The main submarine cables in the country are:

•   Bharat Lanka Cable System: This consortium-owned submarine cable system connects India and Sri Lanka. In India, the cable landing station (CLS) at Tuticorin is owned by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited.

•   Europe India Gateway (EIG): This is a consortium cable system connecting the UK, Portugal, Gibraltar, Monaco, France, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Oman, the UAE and India. Its CLS at Mumbai is owned by Bharti Airtel.

•   FLAG Europe Asia: The Fibre Optic Link around the Globe (FLAG) Europe Asia cable system connects the UK, the Middle East and Mumbai. Owned by FLAG Telecom, the system consists of many undersea cable segments and two terrestrial crossings. From Mumbai, the cable goes to Southeast Asia. The system’s CLS at Mumbai is owned by Tata Communications.

•   FALCON-1: The FLAG Alcatel-Lucent Optical Network (FALCON) is one of the segments of the FLAG system. It connects India to the Gulf. In India, the CLS for the system at Mumbai is owned by RCOM.

•   FALCON-2: This cable network is in the eastern part of the country. In India, the CLS for the system at Thiruvananthapuram is owned by RCOM.

•   i2i: This is a privately owned cable system owned by a joint venture (JV) between SingTel and Bharti Airtel, connecting India to Singapore. In India, the CLS at Chennai is owned by Bharti Airtel.

•   India-Middle East-Western Europe (IMEWE): This cable network connects India and Europe via the Middle East. It is owned by a consortium of nine telecom carriers from eight countries. It has nine terminal stations. In India, the cable system lands at Mumbai at two landing stations. While one station is owned by Tata Communications, the other is owned by Bharti Airtel.

•   SAT3/WACS/SAFE: The Southern Africa-Western Africa (SAT3/WASC) submarine cable links Europe with South Africa and a number of countries on the West African coastline. South Africa-Far East (SAFE) continues the connection from South Africa to Malaysia with a landing that brings India into the system. In India, the CLS for the cable system at Kochi is owned by Tata Communications.

•   SEA cable: This system is owned by Tata Communications and Neotel (South Africa). It connects the African continent to Europe and Asia. In India, the CLS for the cable system at Mumbai is owned by Tata Communications.

•   Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-3 (SEA-ME-WE-3): This is a consortium-owned cable system that connects Western Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In India, the cable system lands at two CLSs, at Mumbai and at Kochi, both of which are owned by Tata Communications.

•   Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-4 (SEA-ME-WE-4): This consortium cable links Southeast Asia to Europe via India and the Middle East. In India, there are two CLSs for the cable system; the one at Mumbai is owned by Tata Communications while the Chennai CLS is owned by Bharti Airtel.

•   Tata Indicom Cable: Owned by Tata Communications, this system connects India and Singapore. In India, the CLS for the cable system at Chennai is owned by Tata Communications.

Recent developments

During  the past year, all the major players in this segment have joined various consortiums that are involved in almost every key global cable project.

In early 2011, Bharti Airtel, in collaboration with 16 other global telecom companies, announced the launch of the EIG cable system, aimed at enhancing diversity and capacity between Europe and India. The 15,000 km cable has received an investment of around $700 million and has a capacity of 3.84 Tbps. It  extends from Mumbai to London, with landings en route in the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Monaco and Marseilles, Gibraltar, Portugal and the UK.

The launch will enable Bharti Airtel to cater to customers in India, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. It has been elected by the consortium to provide services related to network administration and network operations control functions for EIG. As per recent reports, Bharti Airtel is evaluating a proposal to join a consortium that is building an undersea cable network connecting the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) with 21 African countries. The telecom major is yet to take a final decision in this context. The cable system, being built at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion, is likely to be ready for service by the second half of 2014.

Tata Communications, too, has kept itself engaged with its long distance operations. Early this year, it announced the launch of its TGN-Gulf subsea cable system that will connect the Gulf to Mumbai and onward to the rest of the Tata Global Network (TGN).

The cable system was launched in partnership with Nawras of Oman, Etisalat of the UAE, Qtel of Qatar, the Bahrain Internet Exchange of Bahrain, and Mobily of Saudi Arabia. The TGN cable system will serve the Gulf region and offer network access to the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The cable system will initially offer speeds of up to 10 GB.

In a significant development, the vendor recently completed an optic-fibre cable network project with the launch of the Tata Global Network-Eurasia (TGN-EA) cable, which connects Europe to India through Egypt. This network will be used as a backbone for providing data connectivity services to its customers for voice and broadband. The company is also looking to become an anchor tenant customer on Seaborn Networks’ cable system, Seabras-1. The system will enable Tata Communications to provide fully integrated network services from Brazil to its networks in the US, Europe, Africa, Asia and India. Seaborn Networks is looking to ready the Seabras-1 system in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Another launch was of the low latency network which aims to seamlessly connect major financial capitals in Asia, the UK and the US. The network is the first low latency service that offers a pure multipoint Ethernet platform to the financial services sector and other global industries. The network will enable financial firms to conduct high frequency trade between locations such as London and Hong Kong or New York and Singapore, in milliseconds through a single network and single-supplier model.

Meanwhile, with the aim of expanding the reach of its managed enterprise and data centre services, Sify recently announced the operational readiness of its undersea CLS in Mumbai. With a capacity of up to 10 Tbps on certain cable sections, this system is expected to accommodate the rapid growth in voice and media traffic (internet, telephony and video) originating from and terminating in the Middle East as well as the African and European markets. Sify will be the exclusive landing partner for Gulf Bridge International (GBI), a Middle Eastern privately owned submarine cable operator. GBI Cable System will connect all the countries of the Gulf region to each other and will provide onward connectivity to India and beyond via Sify’s landing station in Mumbai. Sify also signed a landing party agreement with MENA Submarine Cable System S.A.E., a licensed telecommunications operator in Egypt.

Reliance Globalcom, the undersea cable arm of RCOM, too, has been busy on this front. In a significant development, RCOM’s plans of listing Reliance Globalcom have been put on the fast track. The operator has received approval from the Singapore Exchange Securities to list company as a trust and is looking to divest 51 per cent to 75 per cent stake in the same. RCOM aims to raise Rs 56 billion from the initial public offering. Also, recently, as part of a JV with the Iraqi Telecommunications and Post Company, the company launched the Al-Faw CLS in Iraq which is expected to connect Iraq to countries in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and North America. This new CLS has a design capacity of 680 Gbps with two diverse routes. It would initially use 50 Gbps on each route to meet the existing market demand. These two routes have been connected to the FALCON undersea optic fibre cable network owned by Reliance Globalcom.

Going forward, as bandwidth demand increases, operators in this space will focus on ramping up their cable networks to meet these requirements


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