Market Studies

‘Super Cables’ Re-Imagineering Subsea Systems

Published: January 2020 (available NOW)


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Subsea Cable technology has developed since its inception in the 1850s through several changes to its current form today. It first morphed from copper to coax and then to fiber, where it has been for several years. Now a new kind of the traditional fiber approach is beginning that replaces the current architecture – a re-imagineered future! The result is a future architecture, based on ‘Super Cables’ that offer much higher capacity and almost endless flexibility.

This report provides a discussion, explanation, and forecasts for the latest developments in the subsea cable field. It explains how these developments will work together to meet this structural and growth requirement by ushering in the age of Super Cable. Many alterations have already started; some are just beginning; some are only just now anticipated. Taken together, it amounts to a complete “Re-Imagineering of the Subsea Cable Architecture.”

We use traffic forecasts and the known and deduced business interests of the major players as the drivers for cable growth and make appropriate forecasts on those bases. The design and drivers of the coming Super Cables are detailed. The estimates of the impact of cloud computing and the major companies participating in that area are in the report. The report concludes with specific forecasts for submarine cable construction: likely routes, and likely significant participants. It also includes estimates for cable size changes, a timeline for developments of cable technology, traffic forecasts, and much more.

This report details the components of submarine cable systems, including the cables, the landing equipment, the repeaters, the equalizers, and the branching units. More importantly, this report will detail how that equipment is migrating (some wholly eliminated) and how it is going to change more as the whole subjected is re-imagineered. Detailed lists of vendors of both cables and landing equipment are in the report.

A section of the report is devoted to current activities in cable construction and advances in technology. A great deal of the story treats the primary content provider companies Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon and their current, planned, and forecast business in the submarine cables.

Although it started first (by decades), subsea cable architecture developed mostly independently from terrestrial-based networks and to some extent, somewhat slower. Maybe because, historically, the terrestrial market was much more extensive and growing faster, more was spent on development in that area. Twenty-five years ago, land networks began to go to DWDM and a little more recently to ROADMs and mesh configurations. Subsea systems were much slower to adopt these new and very expansive technologies.

Fairly recently, that developmental separation has begun to change with the adoption of many terrestrial advances by the subsea establishment. Although the virtually same fiber is continuing to be the primary ingredient in subsea cable networks, its manner of use has begun a transformation that is significantly increasing its capacity. Perhaps as importantly, it is becoming much more flexible in application. Changes are coming at a time when they are necessary to meet (and are being driven by) the rapidly expanding and diversifying market of subsea cables. These changes, taken together, will result in the development and deployment of a ‘Super Cable’ that will significantly surpass the capabilities of existing cables. The forecast is that such ‘Super Cables’ will begin implementation within the next 4-5 years, although they are already starting in early-stage versions.

To begin with, the demand for subsea cable service has never been expanding at such a pace. In the late 1980s, subsea cables carried only 2% of international traffic. The rest was on radio and satellites. Now over 95% of all global traffic is on subsea cables and worldwide is the fastest growing traffic segment. Virtually all estimates put the current and foreseeable future subsea cable growth rate at 40%. A 40% growth rate implies a need to double subsea capacity every two years! That is astonishing growth for a technology that is close to 170 years old!

In addition to the growth, the nature of the subsea cable customer is changing. Traditionally the prime (and for most of history, the only) customer had been the major telecommunications companies (and, of course, the military.) Now the prime customers are becoming the mega data centers, primarily owned and operated by the social media/cloud computing providers - Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. These companies are not only customers, but they are so involved that they all are equity owners and active participants in entire subsea cables. No longer is it desirable to bring a subsea cable to a landing station and from there interconnect with the major telecommunications providers. Now the need is to take a significant portion (or the entire cable) directly to a private data center.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Table of Figures
‘Super Cables’ Re-Imagineering Subsea Systems
History and Background
The Changing Subsea Cable Market
   Cable Ownership
   Change in Landing Site Configurations
    Current Situation
    Coming Change
    The Near Future
Re-Imagineered Architecture
   Coherent Modulation
   L Band Added to C Band
   Space Division Multiplexing
The ‘Super Cable’
   L + C Bands
   Space Division Multiplexing (SDM)
   Dispersion Compensation
   Design Tradeoffs for the Super Cable
    Number of DWDM Channels
    Width of Channel
    Repeater Power Feed
    Branching Units
    Current Major Cable Design Tradeoffs
   Implications and Consequences of Super Cable
    Growth Addition Intervals
    Upgrade of Existing Cables Market
   Cable Vulnerabilities
    Natural Disasters and Accidents
    War or Terror Attacks
Forecasts of Growth
   US Total Traffic Forecast
   US International Traffic by Source
   Growth Areas
    Pacific growth
    Latin America Growth
    European Growth
   Submarine Cable Forecasts Summary
Cable Size Growth
One Sour Note
Cable and Equipment Providers
   List of Cable Providers
   List of Equipment Providers
    Submarine Cable Optical Equipment Company Directory
Current Subsea Cable Situation
   Cables Planned or Pending
   Cloud Computing Company Participation
   Cloud Computing
    Web-Scaled Datacenter
    Cloud Computing Data Center
    Cloud Computing Models
   Impact of Cloud Computing on Submarine Network Requirements
Appendix I - Traditional Subsea Cable Components
    Branching Unit
    Gain Equalizers
    Cable Types
   Landing Equipment Detail
Appendix II, Traffic Statistics Relationships
   SONET/SDH Data Rates
Appendix III Internet Traffic Calculations
   Internet Traffic Calculations
Appendix IV – The Lightwave Network Series of Reports
The Lightwave Network Series of Reports
   The Lightwave Network
   The Lightwave Series of Reports
    General Reports on the Network
    General Market Reports
    Specific Systems Reports

Table of Figures

Figure 1, First Submarine Cable
Figure 2, Submarine Cables 2018-19 - A Map
Figure 3, Subsea Cable Consumption by User Type
Figure 4, Forecast Growth of Content Provider's Growth
Figure 5, Subsea Cable Ownership by Company
Figure 6, Construction through 2021 of Subsea Cables by Content Providers by Region
Figure 7, Present Arrangement at Cable Landing Sites
Figure 8, Cable Landing Configuration – Soon
Figure 9, Landing Site at Customer Data Center
Figure 10, Current Largest Cables
Figure 11, DWDM Sketch
Figure 12, Fiber Cable Loss at Various Wavelengths
Figure 13, L and C Wavelengths
Figure 14, ROADM General Design
Figure 15, ROADM Branching Unit Functionality
Figure 16, Super Cable Design - Step 1
Figure 17, Super Cable design - Step 2.
Figure 18, Super Cable Design - Step 3.
Figure 19, Full Super Cable Design
Figure 20, Major Cables by Year
Figure 21, All forms of US Traffic
Figure 22, US International Traffic by Source
Figure 23, Pacific Growth Area
Figure 24, Subsea Cable Investment Growth Forecast
Figure 25, Cables Needed by Year
Figure 26, Super Cable Development Forecast
Figure 27, Major Submarine Cables by Cloud Computing Companies
Figure 28, Google's Submarine Cable Investments
Figure 29, Hyperscale Datacenter Growth
Figure 30, Global Data Center IP Traffic Growth
Figure 31, Submarine Cable System Expanded Main Components
Figure 32, Repeater Characteristics
Figure 33, Purpose of Branching Units
Figure 34, Branching Unit
Figure 35, Gain Equalizer
Figure 36, Cross Section of Typical Undersea Cable – Shallow Water
Figure 37, Submarine Cable Characteristics
Figure 38, Deep Water Submarine Cable
Figure 39, Types of Submarine Cables
Figure 40, Landing Equipment in a Branched System
Figure 41, Detail of Typical Landing Equipment
Figure 42, Different View of Terminating Equipment
Figure 43: Traffic/Speed Relationships
Figure 44: Example of Various Traffic Sizes
Figure 45, Multiples of Byte
Figure 46, Sonet/SDH Conversions
Figure 47: New Transfer Rate Forecast
Figure 48: Summary of Concepts
Figure 49, Lightwave Network