Diving into the depths

To see into the future of the internet, dive down into the depths of the oceans
Ravi Mali is director, regional sales at Ciena.
Ravi Mali is director, regional sales at Ciena.


Today, subsea cable networks carry nearly 100% of the world’s intercontinental electronic communications traffic. Around 550,000 miles of undersea cables connect the continents, creating vast superhighways of international communications.

Without these undersea cable networks, the global internet that interconnects continents and erases distance would not exist. With the massive rise in annual demand for bandwidth, what does the future hold? Recent revolutionary technology has added new capacity to transoceanic corridors, extended the life of existing cable assets, and helped to create new business models.

Modern day pressures

The world was a simpler place when we were limited to sending messages of just a few words per minute.

Today, high bandwidth services, such as HD video, network virtualization, and cloud computing - services that businesses and consumers depend on are placing greater extra pressure on networks, and cables. Networks need to be able to scale and adjust in real-time in response to surging and often unpredictable traffic demands to satisfy the vast and ever-growing data appetite of the online world.

So, the emphasis is on smart networks that can process and prioritise, react and adapt to changing requirements as bandwidth demands evolve. At the heart of achieving this is near real-time data, which feeds into network algorithms to help providers gain greater visibility and programmability to cope with exploding bandwidth needs. This network intelligence is every bit as vital in submarine cables as it would be within a data centre or corporate networking environment.

The future of submarine cable development

Just a few decades ago, approximately half of all internet-related data was being carried by satellite networks. Now, upwards of 99% of all inter-continental traffic is sent over submarine cable networks. The reason for this is simply a need for capacity and low latency. Satellite networks simply cannot scale to the information-carrying capacity and associated cost points. The preference for cable over satellite means there must be increased investment both in cables and their underlying technology.

Middle East connects the world

Multiple international cable systems interconnect Asia, Africa and Europe via the Middle East making the region an important geographical location in the global economy. For example, Saudi Telecom (STC), the largest telecoms services provider in the MENA region, deployed a resilient, next-generation network to connect Saudi Arabia and France.   Meanwhile, Telecom Egypt is providing international connectivity between the Mediterranean and Asia via its submarine network.

The Gulf and Middle East region has also become an area of interest to content providers, which should result in us seeing additional investments for network upgrades and new cable routes to further increase capacity, and – more importantly – making the business of international communications more stable, more agile, and better able to support continued demand from businesses and consumers.

As for the underlying technologies, through research and innovation, we are able to get more out of existing cables which, when combined with new projects, helps operators prepare for future subsea traffic growth. For example, next generation optical chipsets will deliver an improved combination of scale, automation, capacity, and intelligence, all of which are the foundations for the creation of more autonomous networks.

A self-managing network with the intelligence and programmability to monitor, control and respond in real-time to meet user demands, could mean as much as double the current channel capacity as well as significantly reduced cost per bit charges. This network would also be able to match capacity to system margin across a broad range of applications, as well as facilitate further data collection across the network, turning the vast amount of available data in the network into actionable insights.

Lower cost, higher-capacity, and more reliable submarine network-facilitated connections are going to become standard, allowing information to be shared more swiftly and comprehensively, making the world more connected than ever.

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