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Enhancing Subsea Networks: Need to upgrade legacy cables to meet trans-oceanic data demands

May 01, 2018

Enhancing Subsea Networks: Need to upgra...
By Jatinder Khurana, Director of Sales in Asia Pacific, Ciena

Is there a commonality in wiring money abroad and conducting a video conference call with an overseas customer? It is extremely likely that you will be using a submarine cable network to accomplish most intercontinental tasks.

As more and more Indians start using data services for various mundane and crucial day-to-day activities, the dependence on subsea cable networks will only increase. Most people are unaware that nearly 99 per cent of intercontinental data traffic travels through undersea cables. A network of cables on the seabed is responsible for data moving seamlessly from one continent to another. It is this network that forms the foundation of the global economy.

India has a large connected population that is second only to China’s, as per a Kleiner Perkins Internet Trends report. It is vital for service providers to ensure that submarine networks are unaffected by factors such as equipment failures or natural disasters. A case in point is Cyclone Vardah in 2016, which had affected internet connectivity for several days. Marine activities such as fishing and anchoring cause the majority of submarine cable faults.

Based on the key trends emerging in the market, experts believe that the relevance and criticality of submarine networks is going to increase significantly in the years to come.

Ever increasing data consumption

A drop in data tariffs and in smartphone and device prices has resulted in a dramatic increase in data consumption in India. As service providers continue to expand their 4G networks, this momentum will continue for quite some time. Ericsson’s recent Mobility Report states that mobile data traffic in India is expected to grow by eleven times, from the current 1.3 exabytes per month to 14 exabytes by 2023. A significant amount of this data will use submarine networks to move between data centres around the world where content is hosted.

Growth in data traffic equals that in data centres

Cloud adoption is emerging as a technology of choice for Indian enterprises to achieve scale and operational efficiency. This is driving more data traffic between data centres. Internet service providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google are setting up businesses in India to be closer to the end-users. For instance, Google has set up a data centre in Mumbai for just  this purpose.

A robust subsea cable network will be required to connect intercontinental data centres. The rising use of mobile broadband means that much more data will be moving between data centres and will flow across submarine networks. Even when the content is cached locally, it still requires bandwidth for data centre interconnectivity between different countries. Data also needs to be backed up across geographically dispersed data centres to ensure improved availability. Therefore, a more extensive submarine cable network is required to cater to the increasing bandwidth demands of Indian consumers.

Upcoming 5G and connected IoT

The government has started taking initiatives to drive the development of a 5G ecosystem in the country. It has allocated Rs 5 billion for the same in the latest annual budget. A part of these funds will be used to set up a 5G test bed and collaboration among the five Indian Institutes of Technology located in Delhi, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Mumbai and Chennai. Government-led initiatives like Digital India and the Smart Cities Mission further promise to drive innovative technologies like 5G and connected things. All this indicates the growth of mobile bandwidth in the country.

Original submarine cable networks were not designed to transport such massive amounts of data that internet of things (IoT) and 5G require. They were not built to meet the data requirements of an always-connected world. Legacy cables, therefore, need to be upgraded to meet the growing trans-oceanic data demands. Service providers are working to enhance the capacity of this cable network, but a number of newer projects like AAE1 are coming up to meet the growing capacity requirements.

Legacy submarine cable networks are reaching their capacity limits, but there are technologies such as adaptive modulation and new wet plant designs that allow service providers to enhance the bandwidth capacity of subsea networks.

Adaptive modulation can carry bandwidth up to 200 Gbps per wavelength to ensure improved spectral efficiency. Furthermore, telecom operators can use innovative concepts such as unifying submarine and terrestrial networks to gain cost and operational benefits, which will lead to enhanced network robustness and availability.


A reliable and highly scalable submarine network is a prerequisite to meet the data network demands of humans and “things”. The time is now right for service providers to modernise the submarine networks as 5G and IoT have started to slowly sneak upon us and make their way into the market.


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