New Wave of Subsea Builds Aids APAC's Expansion

The Asia-Pacific bandwidth market has embarked on a fresh wave of expansion.

As many as eight new subsea cables are planned across the Pacific as the capacity sector enters one of its occasional growth phases. Several new regional cables are also on the drawing board.

Between 2009-2013, capacity increased at a compound annual rate of 50% for transpacific, 50% for intra-Asia, and 56% for Europe-Asia, according to Telegeography. That compares with global growth rate of 39% over the same period.

Much of this uptick in demand is a result of China's huge demand for 4G mobile data. However, Julian Rawle, principal at Julian Rawle Consulting, says demand from Asian markets is up across the board, from developing economies such as the Philippines to wired countries such as South Korea and Japan.

"They're all experiencing tremendous growth, driven mainly by 4G mobile and the prospect of 5G, now being talked about," he said.

Politics (in particular the Snowden revelations) also plays a part in driving new capacity requirements, he says. Some states such as China "don't want to rely on others for their development -- they want to reach the US directly."

He expects that no more than four of the planned Pacific cables will get built, but says that is historically high. "Far more international cables are envisaged than built," he points out.

One of those confirmed to go ahead is the Google-backed Faster cable. As with the Unity cable that Google invested in four years ago, the search giant has hooked up with a group of regional telcos -- including China Mobile, KDDI and SingTel -- to build out the system, which will run from Japan to the West Coast. (See Google's Game for Another Subsea Project and Unity Cable Ready for Service.)

In contrast to the traditional club cable, where capacity is jointly owned, Faster will follow the Unity model where each of the six investors will own a fiber pair.

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New intra-Asia cables are also hitting the water. Many of Google's Faster partners are also co-investors in the Southeast Asia-Japan cable, which began service in June 2013. On the growing Singapore-India route, Global Cloud Xchange plans to build a link direct to Mumbai, while efforts are underway to put together a consortium to build SeaMeWe 5 connecting Singapore and India to Europe.

Karl Horne, CTO of Ciena Asia-Pacific, says technology is another driver. "With recent technological progress at 100G, even the longest transpacific cables can be upgraded with 100G," he said.

He says 100G upgrades "have ramped significantly in the past 15 months, so much so that there are virtually no upgrades being commissioned for 40G."

In the previous surge in Asian bandwidth, the Asian-American Gateway (AAG) and the Australia-Guam Pipe Networks were completed in 2009. The Unity cable was commissioned in 2010 and APCN-2 was upgraded in 2011.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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