News in Brief: Cable updates from Submarine Networks EMEA


Day 2 of the event saw presenters provide updates on 10 exciting subsea cable projects across the EMEA region and beyond. Here are some of the highlights…

Portugal becoming an interconnection hub

There is no denying that Portugal sits in a privileged geographical position when it comes to submarine cable infrastructure. With access to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, the country is seeing a surge of new cable deployments connecting it to all four corners of the globe.

“Portugal has been a submarine cable hub for a long time, but now we’re really starting to see rapid growth,” said Jorge Andrade Santos, Head of International Wholesale at Altice Portugal, noting the new cables connecting the country are expected to more than double those being retired between 2021­ and 2026.

These new routes travel in seemingly every direction: West to the Americas, South down the west coast of Africa as far as South Africa, North to northern Europe, and East to the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal to East Asia.

“It’s like a star, spread across the entire globe with Portugal at its centre,” said Santos. “In many cases, these routes are extremely low latency due to their efficient routing, being deployed almost on the same lines that air companies use for commercial flights.”

Portugal is also seeing more cloud infrastructure being deployed inside the country itself, rather than in the previously more popular location of neighbouring Spain. Altice itself recently launched a new interconnection data centre in Lisbon, which is already generating significant business.

“Our main focus is to reduce costs for customers, be open and neutral, and be an interconnection and edge data centre. Now we’re looking to grow and diversify the kind of players that are using the facility,” said Santos.

The operator is also considering a new cable landing station and interconnection project in Porto, with feasibility studies already underway.

South Africa: More than the bus stop at the end of the line

South Africa is well known as the termination point for numerous major submarine cable systems travelling up and down the continent’s East and West coasts. But while this distinction comes with a certain level of prestige, it also leaves the country incredibly vulnerable to cable cuts taking place many miles to the north. In fact, this year alone, we have seen disruptions from both east ad west, with cables damaged off the west coast of Africa and in the Red Sea.

The SAEx Project seeks to alleviate this pressure, providing a new route that will link the USA (Virginia) to Brazil (Fortaleza) all the way to Singapore via South Africa.

“The geopolitical tensions that we’ve seen rising across the route are not easing up. We need a more reliable route that avoids some of the troubling areas, like the Red Sea,” said Rosalind Thomas, Managing Director and CEO of SAEx International Management. “South Africa is often the bus stop at the end of the line but we aim to change that.”

The eastern portion of the cable (SAEx East, South Africa to Singapore) is currently in the funding stage, aiming to close by the start of 2025. Work on SAEx West (Virginia to South Africa) will take place roughly one year after SAEx East.

The project already has approval from the South African government, which has identified it as a “Strategic Mega Telecoms Infrastructure Project”.

Overcoming icebergs to connect Greenland

For the most part, Greenland’s existing submarine cable infrastructure is already over a decade old. As a result, new infrastructure is required, not only to serve growing demand but also to provide additional redundancy for existing routes.

The planned Tusass Connect 1 system will meet this need, connecting Qaqortoq in the south to Aasiaat/Disko Bay in the North, via the capital Nuuk.

Surveys for the project have already been completed. Deployment, however, will be far from easy.

“The area is famous for having some of the world’s biggest glaciers, therefore the world’s biggest icebergs, which, as you can imagine, can create some problems!” said Steen Hansen, Department Manager at Tusass A/S.

The related terrestrial infrastructure for the system will be built between 2024 and 2026, including power infrastructure. In some cases, these fibre deployments will be completed via unburied pipes due to rocky and otherwise impenetrable terrain. The stormy weather also notably makes deployment via poles – a method popular in countries like the US – largely impossible.

Tusass say the project is aiming to be RFS in late 2026 or early 2027.

Genoa growing as rival to Marseille

Marseille has long been at the heart of the Mediterranean submarine cable ecosystem, but in recent years new hubs are growing in prominence. One such hub is Genoa, which is the focus of the new Unitirreno cable system off the west coast of Italy.

The system will connect Genoa to Mazara Del Vallow (Siciliy), with branches to Rome and Sardinia. It comprises 24 fibre pairs on the main trunk, with 16 on the Rome branch and 4 on the Olbia (Sardinia) branch.

“Almost all cables coming from the Middle East and Africa have Marseille as their termination point. Uniterreno will provide an alternative route into Europe, with Genoa emerging as one of the next subsea hubs in the Mediterranean,” said Chris van Zinnicq Bergmann, CCO of Unitirreno.

Part of the motivation here is the growth of Rome as a major data centre region within Italy, beginning to steal the thunder from ever-popular Milan. The new submarine cable system, van Zinnicq, will support this growth.

The initial deployments are expected to start in December this year, with the system read for service in June 2025.

Telxius focussing on redundancy in the Americas

Digital infrastructure provider Telxius had two systems to discuss at Submarine Networks EMEA this year: Firmina and Tikal.

Firmina is a 13,500km cable system currently under construction that spans from the East Coast of US to Brazil and Argentina.

Part of the motivation here, explained Gonzalo Rodriguez, Account Manager EMEA at Telxius, is that the route will provide the company with additional landing points in the US and Brazil, helping to provide redundancy for their existing cables in the region.

Firmina is expected to be ready for service in Q4 this year.

Tikal, meanwhile, is a 2,000km cable connecting Boca Raton, Florida, to Guatemala, with a branch extending to Cancun, Mexico. An additional branch to Barranquilla, Colombia, is also being considered.

“What’s really interesting is this will have a branch to Cancun, Mexico. The region has been very active in the last few years and is now able to justify such an expansion,” said Rodriguez.

Telxius plans for Tikal to be ready for service in Q4 2024.

Cinturion making steady progress on TEAS project

Cinturion Group’s Trans Europe Asia System (TEAS) project is one of the most anticipated subsea cable systems in the world, an open-access network connecting Europe to India with an overland hop across Saudi Arabia.

This terrestrial route will not only allow data traffic to avoid the lengthy task of circumnavigating the Arabia peninsula, but will also avoid troublesome geopolitical regions such as the Red Sea.

Much progress has been made with regards to permitting for the system in the past year, with only the final details waiting to be agreed with the Saudi Arabian government before the project can begin.

Cinturion says it expects to have a contract in force in Q3 of this year, with TEAS ready for service in Q2 of 2027.

Medusa to connect to all five north African countries 

The upcoming Mediterranean’s Medusa cable will span roughly 8,700km from Portugal to Egypt, with branches to major hubs in Europe and North Africa. This notably includes branches to each of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt.

“This is really significant,” said Miguel Angel Acero, CTO of the Medusa Submarine Cable System. “It’s the first submarine cable that will connect to all of these five countries in North Africa.”

He also noted the cable’s significance of the cable for the Mediterranean’s research community, with the EU having provided funds to help connected universities and research institutes across the region.

“We have a grant of €40m from the EU to use Medusa to help connect university and research networks between Europe and North Africa,” explained Acero.

The Medusa system is aiming to be ready for service in Q4 2025.

Tampnet’s Norfest celebrates completion in under a year

With a cold climate and a plentiful supply of fresh water, Norway has grown significantly as a data centre hub in recent years, bringing with it an enormous need for fibre backhaul. This was the motivation behind Tampnet’s new Norwegian Norfest cable system, which spans between Stavanger to Oslo, with branch to Stromstad, Sweden.

The fully buried, open access cable system is comprised of 48 fibre pairs and connects all of the major data centre locations along the southern coast the country.

“It was important for us to do this deployment in the most environmentally sustainable way,” said Tampnet Carriers’ Director of Infrastructure Development, Carol Browne. “The cable itself never left Norway, being domestically manufactured – that’s quite unusual for such a big cable project.”

Norfest was ready to begin commercial operations in December last year, having been completed in just 11 months.

TAM-1 set to be the most advanced cable system in the Caribbean

Phase 1 of TAM-1’s deployment, which is already taking place, will see Florida connected to Central America and the North Caribbean. Phase 2 will see this expanded to the wider Caribbean and the northern parts of South America.

Combined, the full TAM-1 system will span over 7,000 km, with 36 fibre pairs and a total capacity of 648Tb.

Work on the project is progressing steadily, with a contract in force as of September last year and initial surveys taking place this April.

The system is currently set to be ready for service Q4 2025.

Speaking at the event, Joerg Schwartz, Chief Partners & Solutions Officer at Xtera (pictured), noted that the company’s latest repeater, branching unit, and open access technologies will be deployed in the TAM-1 system.

“We’re working to essentially allow you to make a network within each fibre pair,” explained Schwartz. “This is going to be the most innovative and flexible system in the region.”

SEA-SPINE: Connecting the Aegean’s underserved islands

The Aegean Sea includes around 1,415 islands, some of which are among the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. But while the better-known islands are generally well-connected with submarine cable infrastructure, many of the other islands remain largely unconnected.

SEA-SPINE is a submarine cable project aimed at shrinking this digital divide, using roughly 563km of submarine fibre and 232km of terrestrial fibre to connect almost a dozen islands to the global internet backbone.

“We are going to connected 11 islands with 7 submarine links. These are not the best known islands – we are trying to bring quality connectivity to some of the more underserved, geographically challenging areas of Greece,” said Ioannis Patsouras, Solutions Architect for WINGS ICT Solutions.

An international tender for procurement for the cables was launched in February, with initial deployments likely to begin later this year.

Submarine Networks EMEA is the region’s leading submarine cable infrastructure event, covering all of the biggest topics from across the industry

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