Australia needs to invest in more international submarine cable links to cater for continued growth in Internet traffic and to provide greater redundancy, according to two leading analysts.
This week, the PIPE Networks undersea cable system, PIPE Pacific Cable (PPC-1), will be officially launched, providing the country with another international communications link. (The progress of Pipe’s new cable can be seen here.)
In September, PPC-1 successfully underwent tests, through the transmission of IP packets between Australia and the US. The cable system, stretching from Sydney to Guam and capable of carrying data at 1.92 terabits per second, is expected to bring further competition to Australia's broadband market. About 6900km of cable was laid from Sydney to San Jose in the US, via Guam, and Internode will be the first Internet service provider to use the new fibre-optic cable.
Layer 10 founder and the new Communications Alliance NBN lead consultant, Paul Brooks, welcomed the launch of PPC-1 and said it would “provide an extra player in the market to keep all the players honest in their pricing points”.
“I think the extra redundancy that it offers is crucial,” he said. “That to me is more important than what it might do in the short term or long term with price points. It can affect the price but having the extra physical option for reliability and redundancy purposes and protection against failure, to me is one of the major benefits that it brings.”
There have been several instances in recent years of submarine cables being cut. In August, for example, a segment of the Asia-Pacific Cable Network 2 (APCN2) undersea cable network between China and Taiwan suffered a serious cable fault, causing traffic to be rerouted onto other undersea cables and slowing Internet access for some users in Southeast Asia.
And in December 2008, efforts to restore normal communications between Europe and Asia suffered a setback after an important undersea cable broke for a second time. In both cases traffic was rerouted through other cables, slowing down the Internet for millions of people and causing significant economic loss.
In Australia, aside from the new PPC-1 the other main submarine cables include: the SEA-ME-WE3 cable in Perth, which links us to South East Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe; the Southern Cross Cable that lands north and south of Sydney and which hooks up with New Zealand, Fiji and the US; and the older Australian Japan Cable, which goes through Guam to Japan.
For Brooks, boosting capacity on existing cables – which can be done through improvements in amplifier technology – and investing in additional cables should be considered to reduce the impact of any such events on the country, which already sufferers from of the slowest Internet speeds in the developed world.
“It is possible to increase the capacity of all the cables as the demand justifies the expenditure on new hardware at the terminal end,” he said. “But the main criteria and why I think it is important we have more cables as well as potentially increasing capacity on the ones we have got is from a redundancy point of view. We have seen in the last several months, is what happens when there is a significant undersea event cables get cut and the more cables we have and the more that each carrier spreads their capacity across multiple cables then the safer and more reliable the international connections will be.”
According to telecommunications analyst and Buddecomme director, Paul Budde, there is also a necessity for extra cables to cater for increasing traffic volumes.
“History has proven that you only see a better – cheaper – use of submarine cables when new ones are installed,” he said in an emailed response. “In all other situations operators will keep their prices as high as possible.”
Budde pointed to Australia’s close connections with other English language speaking countries where large amounts of the content we access is stored as being crucial.
“The more the better as there is no indication that the increase in traffic – content – is going to slow down any time soon.”