Surging Asian Demand Driving Capacity 'Explosion'
The world's submarine cable business is mostly Asian and increasingly OTT.
The capacity industry is undergoing a wave of fresh investment, driven mostly by Asian demand.
Bandwidth in and from Asia has surged this decade, increasing from 36% of all connected capacity in 2012 to 49% in 2018, according to research firm TeleGeography.
In the current upswing, new routes into and within the region account for around 55% of planned cable construction spending over 2016-21.
According to the SubTel Forum annual industry report, until recently the "trans-Pacific was almost fully saturated, with no new systems built at all between 2010-2015."
But a new cable has been added every year for the last three years, with eight new systems planned through to 2022.
"As a result, there is a potential explosion of growth possible through 2022," it says.
The other part of the changing pattern of bandwidth deployment and consumption is the role of US Internet heavyweights Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.
They increasingly dominate global bandwidth markets, accounting for 54% of all international traffic last year, according to TeleGeography.
They are also active investors, involved in 80% of the Atlantic cables under construction, 60% of the Pacific cables and nearly 70% of the new intra-Asia links.
For example, Facebook and Google are co-investors in the 144Tbit/s Pacific Light and Cable Network (PLCN), due to go into service this year, Microsoft has a stake in the 80Tbit/s NCP, completed last year, and Facebook is a partner in the 80Tbit/s Hong Kong-Americas, expected to go live in 2020, and, with Amazon, a co-owner of the 108Tbit/s BtoBE, also due to launch next year.
They are even building their own fully owned branch cables. Facebook is running a spur off BtoBe to Malaysia's east coast, while Google is running branch cable off PLCN to Taiwan and the Philippines.
TeleGeography points out their dominance is relatively new. As recently as 2006, telco-built cables carried more than 80% of international bandwidth.
But TeleGeography research director Alan Mauldin notes that the dominance of the Internet firms is limiting the amount of bandwidth available on the wholesale market.
"The demand from large users may be partially or wholly unaddressable in the wholesale market," he said.
Right now, about 25% of the market is addressable, but that will likely contract to just 10% in 2025, he says.
However, while the addressable segment is shrinking as portion of the market, it is still growing overall.
He says quite a number of users, including carriers and content providers, have not invested in cables "and will need to buy capacity from someone."
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading