With more than 70% of the earth’s surface being covered by water, it’s no wonder the world’s oceans have become a major conduit for global communications. TeleGeography reports that in early 2018, there were approximately 448 submarine cables (an estimated 1.2 million kilometers) in service around the world. And the growth of subsea cable systems continues unabated as content providers, public clouds and the Internet of Things (IoT) keep pumping out massive amounts of data. TeleGeography projects that operators could invest an additional $8.8 billion in new cables between 2018 and 2020 to keep up with the demand.
Along with this high growth, the makeup of subsea cable traffic is evolving – more than two-thirds of the subsea fiber cable bandwidth capacity growth comes from hyperscalers and content providers such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. Equinix has played a large part in developing the next generation of submarine system landing station infrastructures to accommodate this shift by placing cable landing stations in its global data centers. Currently, Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data centers are subsea cable enabled in 34 metros around the world. Platform Equinix® with Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™) provides enterprises and service providers in globally interconnected Equinix IBX data centers with direct and secure access to rich ecosystems of network, cloud, SaaS and content providers.
Today, we are announcing that Google has selected Equinix for its Los Angeles cable landing station (CLS) supporting the Curie subsea cable system, scheduled to go live in 2019. The Curie subsea cable system will land directly at the Equinix LA4 International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data center located in El Segundo, Calif. Google has selected Equinix LA4 as its CLS due to the company’s expertise in delivering and managing subsea cable landing stations. This new route will be the first subsea cable to Chile in the last 20 years.
But let’s step back from this news and take a closer look at how the transformation in subsea cable traffic, ownership and systems over the last five years has led up to this exciting moment.
The changing face of subsea cable traffic and ownership
According to the Submarine Telecoms Industry report, the submarine fiber industry has added an average of 32% capacity annually on major submarine cable routes, including upgrades and new system builds, between 2013 – 2017. This high growth is being driven by demand from cloud and network service providers, content providers and enterprises moving increasing amounts of data across the world in real time.[ii]
The same study looks at the ownership of submarine fiber systems and shows that private ownership by internet and content providers is overtaking consortiums, which are primarily made up of telecommunications carriers. The private financing and management of subsea cables is expected to continue to grow from 61% over the last five years, to 83% in 2018 and beyond (see diagrams below).
Source: Submarine Telecoms Forum
Content providers, such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon, are dominating subsea cable traffic bandwidth capacity as compared to other types of providers (e.g., enterprise, internet, research/educational). In 2017, across Atlantic and Pacific routes, content providers accounted for over half of total demand compared to other types of traffic (see diagram below).
Share of Used Bandwidth by Category for Major Routes, 2017
Most major content providers are using these networks to deliver services to their customers versus attempting to sell subsea cable bandwidth to the wholesale market. The internal customer demands they are tackling are focused in two major areas: 1) inter-data center traffic and 2) content distribution and cloud services. Owning their own end-to-end cable systems and CLS infrastructures gives these content providers greater control over performance, security and costs. It helps them reduce the latency of long-haul transmission, enables private interconnection between businesses, and leverages dense network, cloud and enterprise aggregation points at the point of termination. Partnering with a global interconnection and colocation provider, such as Equinix, is enabling private subsea cable system owners and operators to meet all of their goals on a single platform.
How subsea cables terminate on land is changing
The heartbeat of the entire world exists in its oceans, and today’s businesses are just beginning to monetize this powerful asset. Ninety-nine percent of transoceanic traffic crosses a subsea cable, extending a company’s digital edge across both land and sea.[iii] But to meet increasing demands for lower-latency connectivity and greater customer access, businesses must change how they build subsea cabling and landing system infrastructures. In contrast to traditional models that have existed for years, they need to cut down latency by adopting a next-generation, proximity-focused landing station model.
This next generation design of CLSs is evolving to take advantage of better economics and new technology. In the past, the old wet and dry plant model among subsea cable operators relied extensively on a single vendor for cables, repeaters to Submarine Line Terminal Equipment (SLTE), Power Feed Equipment (PFE) and Line Monitoring Equipment (LME). This closed subsea cable system typically landed far from users, near the beach or in a data center near a large metro. This model has given way to the open cable system model with a choice of CLS data center locations and vendors in the last five years. Equinix supports this new open model by enabling direct and secure interconnectivity between cable landing systems and users within Equinix IBX® data centers, with the following benefits:
- High-speed, low-latency connections: Optic sea cables travel at a speed of 50.9 terabits per second (Tbps) across 11,000 kilometers. That is incredibly fast, however, the traditional subsea cable landing architecture of terminating these cables inside CLSs that are located on the beach, away from high-population metros and business users, slows traffic down. Even moving CLS infrastructures closer to metro data centers where there were more digital users, still meant the traffic had to traverse hundreds of miles over multiple hops to get to them.Advances in laser technology have enabled CLSs to terminate inside multi-tenant data centers, such as Equinix, that are located in high-population metros with dense digital and business ecosystems. This direct connection at the subsea cable termination point is faster, more secure and less expensive since it doesn’t need to traverse single or multiple hops to move traffic from subsea cables over a terrestrial network to link to IT in a data center. This is an attractive solution to our customers such as content providers, gaming companies, and cloud computing providers that are concerned with reducing the latency of long-haul transmission.
- Digital and business ecosystem proximity: Businesses need to be close to each other to interconnect the employees, partners and customers that drive global digital business, without vendor lock-in. Private interconnection enables those real-time, open interactions. According to the Global Interconnection Index (the GXI) Volume 2, installed Interconnection Bandwidth capacity between businesses is expected to reach 8200+ Tbps between 2017 and 2021, with double-digit growth across all industries. The innovative, open CLS design gives submarine cable users direct and secure connections to the variety of industry ecosystems inside Equinix, including more than 9,800 customers, 2,900+ cloud and IT providers, 1,700+ network providers, and 800+ content and digital media providers worldwide.
- Access to a globally interconnected fabric: ECX Fabric™ takes access to subsea cable systems to a whole new level. ECX Fabric connects Equinix data centers all over the world to create an interconnected fabric of extremely fast physical and virtual connections. This cross-metro connectivity option presents hyperscalers and content providers with a huge opportunity to leverage existing Equinix IBX data center interconnection solutions, rather than building an infrastructure from the scratch in new markets at a premium. This exchange system directly, securely and dynamically interconnects distributed infrastructure and digital ecosystems across the world, including CLSs, so that global businesses can innovate and collaborate in current and new markets.
ECX Fabric recently received the Pacific Telecommunications Council (PTC) 2019 award for Best Cloud/Data Center/Interconnection Innovation at this year’s PTC’19 Conference in Honolulu. This award recognizes the most outstanding innovation in cloud or enterprise data centers and interconnection. ECX Fabric directly, securely and dynamically connects distributed infrastructure and digital ecosystems on Platform Equinix via global, software-defined interconnection, enabling high-performance, scalable and cost-effective hybrid and multicloud infrastructures.
Platform Equinix provides a vendor-neutral, purpose-built interconnection and colocation platform that helps subsea cable system owners and operators realize outstanding performance, security, reliability and cost savings. This is why we have already won over 25 subsea projects in less than three years – including the first open subsea cable system, Monet, in which Google was also an investor – and continue to track numerous projects with ready for service dates within next two years. Just in 2018, the BRUSA, MAREA, ASC and Hawaiki cables went live at Equinix, establishing new routes between North America and South America, North America and Spain, Australia and Singapore, and Australia and North America, respectively.
Map of metro subsea-enabled Equinix IBX data center locations
Read more about ECX Fabric and how it enables digital businesses around the world, such as Google and others, to reach everywhere, interconnect everyone and integrate everything.
[i] TeleGeography, “Submarine Cable Frequently Asked Questions,” 2018.
[ii] Submarine Telecoms Forum, “Submarine Telecoms’ Industry Report, Issue 6, 2017-1018.”
[iii] Newsweek, “Undersea Cables Transport 99 Percent of International Data,” 2015.