Building the backbone for global connectivity

Telecom Asia Special Project Team
24 Dec 2018

The world’s digital economy is built on submarine cables. No longer just connectors of population centers, these cables now link the numerous data centers located around the world to facilitate global commerce.

Submarine cable systems are viewed as critical infrastructure both for nations looking to develop as ICT hubs and enhance their economic growth, and for the basic innate human desire to communicate and share ideas in today’s connected world.

Innovations, led by cloud computing and other data intensive applications, and the entry of large content players are accelerating the demand for capacity. Already over 90% of trans-Atlantic used capacity comprises machine-to-machine traffic, which has witnessed growth multiply by over twenty times in the past five years.

Whether it is new cloud based IT applications, on demand content, high-definition video streaming, or bandwidth-hungry mobile apps and new technologies such as augmented and virtual reality. The fundamental driver is data.

In terms of demand, on average capacity requirements across the planet is witnessing growth of over 55% year-on-year. That is an average, as in some regions such as the African continent it is even greater.

Huawei Marine Networks (HMN) chief executive officer Mike Constable noted that: “As the world’s network topology continues to mesh between nations that have not historically connected directly, and the data center centric shift, we are facing unique challenges beyond the technical challenges of transmitting vast amounts of data across the world’s oceans.”

Rethinking submarine networks

It is a shift that HMN understands well. Since the company was founded ten years ago, it has successfully developed leading-edge technology to deliver robust, reliable and flexible submarine networks throughout the world.

In ten years, Huawei Marine has deployed over 50,000km of submarine cable across the world’s oceans in that period, it has pioneered many innovative “firsts”. HMN were the first to successfully overlay the transmission of 100G over a distance span in excess in 11,000km.

In 2014, it achieved another milestone when it became the first company to transmit 400G across 6,000km of the Atlantic Ocean on existing legacy infrastructure. In 2016, the company’s launched its unified WDM platform that seamlessly integrates both submarine and terrestrial fiber networks.

“If you look at our track record, we have successfully delivered over 90 projects, spanning 70 countries and touching almost every region and continent. We are actively transforming the planet as the requirement for connectivity is ubiquitous and fundamental to derive the benefits of today’s digital economy,” explained Constable.

“However our focus is also firmly set on supporting our customers’ growth aspirations by providing tailor-made financing solutions. Our belief is that assisting our customers to optimize their cash flow and balance sheet to enhance profitability, is fundamental to adding value. We have been successful in providing bespoke project finance solutions and will continue to build upon that capability.”

A strong customer base underscores HMN’s success. Today, from government-owned telecoms organizations to private entrepreneurs and blue-chip telecom investors rely on the company’s technology and expertise to enhance their existing networks or expand their network footprint. These activities have brought remote island nations like Rodrigues and emerging economies of the vast archipelagos of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia into the global economy.

People are HMN’s cornerstone. “I believe our differentiation goes beyond our products and technology, and rests within our people and our culture. We have a talented, extremely motivated team who thrives on challenges and achieving the impossible. Our people’s energy and commitment are unique assets that cannot be quantified or easily replicated,” said Constable.

Increasing complexity

Relentless challenges face the submarine cable industry. One of the more complex challenges relates to the regulatory environment.

“We are witnessing an increasingly complex regulatory regime that we need to navigate to procure all licenses and construction permits from a broad cross-section of government authorities, environmental groups, and other seabed users. This complexity is exacerbated by the fact that many cable systems land in multiple countries and cross the territorial waters of multiple nations. Each nation requires adherence to, and approvals from their own individual national, state and local legislation and jurisdictions,” said Constable.

It is here that HMN developed strong stakeholder management capabilities, allowing the company to deliver projects on time and avoid cost overruns.

But where the company stands apart is in its focus on innovation through Research and Development (R&D) in the last decade, the company poured significant investment into R&D activities, where over 25% of its employees are focused. This emphasis on technological innovation has been fundamental to its success to date.

Building new inroads

HMN is not resting on its laurels. It is building on its ten years of success to drive new innovative technologies and spearhead new efforts that connect different parts of the world.

For example, the company is developing the PEACE project that will see the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe connected with a high-speed super highway link of over 100Tbps of capacity within the next two years. It is also entering new areas with its first oil and gas project that will link several offshore platforms with a high-speed broadband network in Nigeria

“While we celebrate our 10th year anniversary and share our successes, these could only be achieved with the support of our many partners and customers. Our journey is only beginning as we are poised to further enhance connectivity across the globe and continue to play a leading role in transforming the world's digital economy. This journey is HMN’s reward,” Constable concluded.

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