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Will New Cables Make Global Bandwidth a Given?

It appears the great advances of the early 21st century will depend on a somewhat more ambiguous commodity: bandwidth. Fiber-optic cables spanning the globe are helping to guarantee the latest revolution never runs out of fuel.

Will New Cables Make Global Bandwidth a Given?

Jan 10, 2007 12:49 PM

If the great industrial and economic revolution of the 19th century ran on coal, and that of the 20th century ran on gasoline, then it appears the great advances of the early 21st century will depend on a somewhat more ambiguous, but still vital commodity: bandwidth.

Fiber-optic cables spanning tens of thousands of miles around the globe are helping to guarantee the latest revolution never runs out of fuel.

Bandwidth, or simply the data-carrying capacity of the Internet connections into and out of a business site, has come to the fore exactly as video has emerged as the pre-eminent form of multimedia content traveling over business networks. Networks built with web browsing or voice communications in mind are being re-thought from a new, video-centric point of view, and huge expansions of network capacity are underway all over the world.

Consider the announcement in December that Verizon is partnering with a number of Chinese and Korean companies to build a new optical cable linking North America to China. The 11,000-mile cable, due to become operational late in 2008, will upgrade a lower-speed system that is currently the only direct link between the United States and China. Verizon says the new system will increase the capacity of the line by a factor of 60.

That’s just one of a seeming multitude of new fiber connections girdling the world. Late 2005 saw the light-up of the last phase of Sea-Me-We, a huge fiber linkage connecting Southeast Asia (Sea), the Middle East (ME), and Western Europe (WE). At the same time, such other mega-cable networks as FLAG Telecom have reached or neared their maturity, bringing increasing portions of the earth’s surface within reach of super-fast data networks.

Multinational corporate users may be among the first in line to take advantage of the new capacity. “The multinationals or end users really don’t care how their videoconference is transported as long as it is not via satellite, as this would introduce too much delay,” says John LoPinto, CEO of Communications Specialties. “I think these new fibers will drive down the cost of TransPac communication as capacity is increased. [Broadband capacity in the past] has always been there, but at what cost?”

Of course, some of this additional capacity will be used for increased growth in demand, but at least initially, it should drive down this communication component of videoconferencing costs. To the extent that capacity on these fibers exceeds demand and communication costs plummet, you may see new applications take advantage of this as they become economically viable.”

Telegeography Research, in a report last year, forecast that “lit” undersea fiber cables—i.e., those in actual use—would reach a capacity of 2.9Tbps on trans-Atlantic routes and 1.5Tbps trans-Pacific during 2006. The company also notes, “India, the Middle East, and Africa in particular are experiencing a rapid expansion of supply and demand for international bandwidth. The upcoming deployment of SeaMeWe-4, FLAG FALCON, and other region submarine cables will provide a huge influx of bandwidth to many countries that have previously relied on satellites.

“Thanks to abundant unlit supply on existing networks, most suppliers can respond to demand increases by lighting wavelengths and fiber pairs on an as-needed basis. This incremental approach to regulating spare circuit inventories will contribute to something the bandwidth industry has not seen in over a decade: lit supply and demand coming into balance.”

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