New Subsea Cable Architectures Are Carrying the World’s Traffic

How carrier-neutral data centers are becoming the new home for submarine cable landing stations

Alex Vaxmonsky
New Subsea Cable Architectures Are Carrying the World’s Traffic

As of early 2019, there were approximately 378 submarine cables in service around the world, consisting of approximately 1.2 million kilometers of fiber cables lying at the bottom of our oceans.[1]And the ownership of these subsea cables continues to change. Consortium and private cable models are being challenged by independent infrastructure providers (IIPs) and hyperscale content providers such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, which represent more than two-thirds of the subsea fiber cable bandwidth capacity growth.

There’s a new cable termination model in town

To gain access to multiple terrestrial network service providers (NSPs) with diverse routes to major global metro markets, today’s cable owners and operators prefer their subsea cable capacity to be terminated on land at a carrier-neutral colocation or a hyperscale data center (e.g., AWS, Google, etc.). A carrier-neutral colocation provider also enables subsea cable customers to colocate their cable landing station (CLS) equipment and access space, power and direct cross connects.

In addition, “Over the Top” (OTT) providers, such as YouTube, NetFlix and Hulu, and IIPs are actively investing in terrestrial backhaul networks. This is leading to growth in dark fiber connectivity from the CLS or data centers hosting CLS, components, which include power feed equipment (PFE) and submarine line terminal equipment (SLTE). These subsea cable owners are looking for carrier-neutral data center facilities to terminate their subsea cable connections where they can be proximate to the most customers and business partners. And, they require a global platform that will deliver enhanced performance via low-latency connections and best quality of service (QoS) at a greatly reduced cost. This type of global colocation and interconnection services platform creates a magnetic effect that draws in more users that can leverage a global subsea cable fabric, which connects cities, countries and continents together.

Purpose-built metro and long-haul dark fiber networks connecting either in a stand-alone CLS or vendor-neutral data centers that offer CLS+partner+customer colocation, such as Equinix International Business ExchangeTM (IBX®) data centers, will continue to gain traction in years to come. For example, Equinix LA4 houses PFEs and SLTEs for Google’s private cable Curie, which unites Chile and California. LA4 also offers connectivity to the transpacific FASTER subsea cable from Los Angeles to Chikura, Japan.

Google’s Curie Subsea Cable System

Source: Google

The move to edge -based open cable systems

Hyperscalers, OTTs and other subsea cable owners and tenants are turning to telco-agnostic CLS locations to gain multi-route connectivity for the greatest subsea-to-terrestrial backhaul, choice of networking vendors and access to the most enterprise customers. To maximize performance, diversity and resiliency, the role of an open CLS as the point of interconnection between sea and land becomes critical. The concept of “Continental Edge,” refers to establishing an ecosystem of subsea terrestrial network carriers and other access networks (i.e., content delivery networks). These businesses require open internet exchange points (IXPs) and access to cloud and network providers, including those that support dark fiber deployments and deliver software-defined networking (SDN) at a coastal edge, where subsea cables land. All these capabilities will continue to increase in importance for subsea cable operators to deliver the best performance for the lowest cost.

Privately interconnecting multiple parties to subsea cables via point-to-point cross connects

Whether in a stand-alone CLS or in a carrier-neutral multi-tenant data center, private cross connects via jumper fiber cables play an important role in interconnecting multiple parties together on-site. An “open” policy facilitates cross connects between subsea operators, terrestrial fiber, SDN-and cloud providers, and IXPs without any type of restrictions.

A cross connect is a point-to-point cable link that enables the private data exchange and interaction between businesses. By terminating a subsea CLS directly at a data center, it eliminates the delays created from backhauling workloads between the CLS and an interconnection hub, such as the Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™). This model enables the subsea operator to offer its customers fast, direct and secure access to cloud, network, content and other ecosystem partners present inside the data center.

Subsea cables’ growing capacity

Today, subsea cable systems connect the world’s continents and carry 95% of all international communications.[2]The demand for more bandwidth, largely driven by a continued shift toward cloud services and the explosion of mobile device usage, provides numerous opportunities for the submarine fiber industry to build new cable systems. By all estimates, the current and foreseeable growth rate of the data running over global subsea cables is 40%, reaching close to 6,000 KiloTerabytes per month by 2022. And with subsea cable design capacity going from six fiber pairs to 24 fiber pairs supporting a capacity 50 – 60 TB pair, this means that subsea cables could be the predominant way that digital workloads are being transferred around the world.ii

Source: SubTel Forum Magazine


Subsea cable momentum continues to build at Equinix

Equinix recently announced that RTI Connectivity Pte. Ltd. (RTI) has selected Equinix to extend its connectivity solutions in Tokyo, Japan, and Sydney, Australia. The unique design of the new cable systems will improve latency between these continents, while also reducing provisioning timeframes from weeks to just days. RTI selected Equinix IBX data centers as its CLS sites due to the company’s expertise in delivering and managing cable landing stations and its access to dense, rich ecosystems of networks, clouds, and financial and IT service providers.

Source: Equinix

To date, Equinix has 38 data centers that are subsea-enabled in 55 metros worldwide (see diagram below), with approximately 60 subsea cable projects actively in the planning or development stages. Equinix has the critical capabilities necessary to support the growing needs of subsea cabling systems around the world.  Its global vendor-neutral data center facilities and high-speed, low-latency interconnection solutions, provide subsea cable owners and tenants direct and secure access to dense network and cloud ecosystems, and more than 9,700 customers worldwide. 

Global Sub-Sea Cable-Enabled Equinix IBX Data Centers

Source: Equinix

To learn more, read about ECX Fabric.


[1] Telegeography

[2] SubTel Forum Magazine, “Re-Imagining Telecom Subsea Cables,” Clifford Holliday, February 2020.


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Alex Vaxmonsky Former Director, Business Development for Global Service Providers
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