Vocus targets resources sector with $670M in cable builds

Reborn Australian fiber player Vocus is on a cable building binge, with close to 1 billion Australian dollars (US$672 million) in new capacity planned or underway.

The enterprise and wholesale specialist, Australia's fourth biggest telco, was acquired last year by asset manager Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets Management and Aware Super, Australia's second largest pension fund.

With the new owners' backing, Vocus is now laying out onshore and offshore cable bets, most of it going into Australia's resources-rich but connectivity-poor north and northwest.

Backed by new owners, Australia's Vocus brings capacity and diversity to remote northwest and northern regions.
 (Source: Pixabay)
Backed by new owners, Australia's Vocus brings capacity and diversity to remote northwest and northern regions.
(Source: Pixabay)

It is building a 1000km link between its two existing cables, the Australia-Singapore Cable (ASC) and the North West Cable System, and a 2000km terrestrial cable from Perth to Port Hedland. Together, these will complete a A$500 million ($333 million) system connecting Perth, Darwin, Port Hedland, Christmas Island, Indonesia and Singapore.

The upgrade in capacity and diversity will enable Vocus to target resources giants in the region, which is home to some of the world's largest mineral and gas deposits, as well as new government customers in the Northern Territory.

Andrew Wildblood, head of enterprise and government, said Vocus signed a major resources firm as an anchor tenant on the new link, which crosses the Scarborough gas field.

Full automation for miners

The new system will provide these mining companies fast access to Singapore's hyperscale data centers, delivering the bandwidth and low latency needed to support their automation.

"They're all driving for full automation. They're all wanting compute power closer to the mine site. Sampling, drilling, seismic, driving those trucks – the whole value chain of automation," Wildblood said.

"There is some real innovation going on in the northwest. That's where we see a big market opportunity."

He said the other opportunity was in Darwin, where the Northern Territory government has part-funded the link to the ASC as part of its ambition to make the city a digital hub.

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Since the announcement of the new link, which brings to Darwin its first direct international subsea connection, Vocus CEO of wholesale, Jarrod Nink, says data center operator NextDC has already committed to a new facility in the city.

Wildblood said the NT government was already a Vocus customer, and the company sees further potential demand from the growth in military facilities in the territory.

Besides these commercial factors, Asia-Pacific's increasingly fraught geopolitics also play a part. Wildblood says that as tensions rise in the South China Sea, Darwin on Australia's north coast is becoming an Asia safe haven.

Not that it's ignoring OTTs, which he acknowledges are still the biggest source of capacity demand.

"They all want two, three or four routes in and out of the country. If you can provide alternative routes for them then they're going to buy capacity."

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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