Optical/IP Networks

East Asia's subsea cables, fiber forecasts and more

This digest of recent optical networking news and notes covers Tonga's Internet outage, Japan's subsea cable plans, AT&T's fiber growth, Charter's rural plans and more.

Tonga cord cut

The island nation of Tonga hopes to have its sole international cable fixed by mid-February. The massive Jan. 14 offshore volcanic eruption cut Tonga's connection to the outside world along with its main inter-island link. Once the main cable is fixed, attention will turn to the possibly more damaged domestic fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga’s smaller islands to the main island.

Tonga Geological Services staff observe and monitor the eruption of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai on January 13th from a safe distance.
  (Source: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo)
Tonga Geological Services staff observe and monitor the eruption of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai on January 13th from a safe distance.
(Source: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo)

The Tonga Cable System (TCS) runs about 500 miles northwest to Fiji, where it links to the northern leg of the Southern Cross network that runs across the Pacific from Sydney to the US West Coast. Three years ago, a ship dragging anchor likely broke the same cable. Now this second, unkindest cut "underlines the precariousness of Pacific communications and the need for some high-bandwidth redundancy," said Light Reading's Robert Clark.

Japan to lay cable

The Tonga emergency underscores Japan's vulnerability, echoing the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that severed most of the trans-Pacific and intra-Asia cables landing in Japan. Even without natural disasters, subsea cable failures are common in the busy sea traffic of east Asia. To curb risk, the Japanese government is planning to spend around 50 billion yen (US$440 million) decentralizing its subsea cables and data centers.

Japan plans over three years to submerge a cable around the entire country. More than half of the country's international cables currently land off the country's Pacific coast. Japan also plans over five years to build, in rural areas, a dozen high-capacity digital data centers bringing together optical fiber and 5G. Nearly two-thirds of data centers now sit in the Tokyo region. The PM also said 5G would reach 90% of the population in 2023, up from 30% today, and that by 2030, optical fiber will be a universal service.

Meanwhile, the four Japanese operators announced they will build a 770km 160Tbits/s subsea cable to link the northern island of Hokkaido to Akita on the northwest coast.

AT&T bulks up

AT&T, whose overall broadband revenues hit $2.32 billion last year, expects its fiber subscriber growth rate to accelerate this year, said CEO John Stankey on the company's Q4 2021 earnings call. AT&T finished 2021 with nearly 6 million fiber subscribers and added 2.6 million fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) locations, a bit below original hopes due to supply chain constraints.

AT&T still looks to fiber-up more than 30 million locations by the end of 2025. Stankey expressed hope that with a restored supply chain, AT&T can cut three months off the engineering-to-sales cycle time, from the current year-ish down to nine months. For the math-minded that's a hefty 25%.

Charter's rural plans

The FCC has authorized a total of more than $1.2 billion for rural broadband in parts of 32 states which include a large number of Charter Communications markets. Charter has already allocated about $1 billion this year to fund its array of rural construction projects, including unserved areas that will benefit from the operator's haul from the first Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. Charter might go even bigger in 2022 as it explores other ways to tap broadband stimulus funds tied to the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure and Jobs Act. The company's broader plans for rural communities include census blocks defined as rural, along with RDOF-related projects. Charter's first service launch resulting from RDOF is taking place in El Paso, Texas.

Corning charts growth

Corning Chairman and CEO Wendell Weeks in his Q4 2021 earnings call said the company's Optical Communications unit saw sales up 22% last year, with more growth expected and operators expanding "network capacity, capability and access," including fiber-rich wireless deployment. Weeks also said Corning is expanding its long-time collaboration with AT&T, and forecast a coming multiyear double-digit growth wave for passive optical networks, pushed by both private and public investment in infrastructure.

Image of fiber-optic cable.
  (Source: Pixabay)
Image of fiber-optic cable.
(Source: Pixabay)

Iliad's price invasion

Buona fortuna to Telecom Italia, Vodafone Italia and WindTre, still reeling from their first odyssey with European telco Iliad. This time Iliad Italia brings a low-cost fiber plan, priced at €23.99 with download speeds of up to 5 Gbit/s and upload speeds of up to 700 Mbit/s in the north Italian cities of Bologna, Milan and Turin. Rival offerings range from €27 to €30 with download speeds of 1 Gbit/s to 2.5 Gbit/s.

Iliad prepped for launch by teaming up with wholesale fiber providers, pledging support for Telecom Italia's FiberCop vehicle (now building a last-mile network grid in Italy) and inking a deal with state-backed broadband operator Open Fiber.

Canadian initiatives

Rogers Communications new CEO Ed Staffieri said the 2022 plan is to grow fixed wireless service, target FTTP buildouts, and upgrade the recently embattled company's hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) network to DOCSIS 4.0 to support multi-gigabit speeds. Meanwhile, nearly half the Canadian population can't get high-speed Internet. This Light Reading podcast covers another worthwhile Canadian initiative meant to fix that. The Divide: How FibreONE is helping bring broadband infrastructure to rural Canada | Light Reading

ICYMI… 2022 is the International Year of Glass and fiber-maker Coractive is celebrating.

– Rachel Adelson, a Light Reading contributor, is a longtime editor and writer covering science and technology.

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