Google and Facebook are teaming up to build a 120 Tbit/s submarine cable that will connect Los Angeles with Hong Kong. The two companies are working with Pacific Light Data Communication — a wholly owned subsidiary of China Soft Power Technology that’s relatively new to the sub-sea cable game.
Figure 3 - Pacific Light Cable Map
Source: Pacific Light Data Communication
Once the new 12,800 km cable is at full capacity, it’ll be the highest-capacity trans-Pacific cable yet. Until now, that record was held by the FASTER cable, which Google also has a stake in.
When it was first announced late last year (and before Google’s or Facebook’s names were attached to the project) the estimate was that the construction of the new Pacific Light Cable Network would cost about $400 million. The cable will feature five fiber pairs. A single one of those pairs will be able to provide 24 Tbit/s of bandwidth.
Google says that all parties participating in building the cable will have their own portion of the cable and that the company will have its own fiber pair to keep its own traffic private.
The new cable will become the sixth submarine cable that Google has a stake in (the others are Unity, SJC, FASTER, MONET and Tannat).
While it may seem unusual for Google to partner with Facebook on this kind of project, submarine cables often feature these kind of partnerships. Facebook and Microsoft recently teamed up to build a trans-Atlantic cable, for example, which at 160 Tbit/s is even faster than the Pacific Light cable (but also only half as long).
Amazon, too, is starting to invest in its own submarine cables, but so far, the company has not partnered with other industry giants to do so.
As Google notes, the new cable will bring lower latency and greater bandwidth to its customers in the APAC region. The same can be said for Facebook’s customers, too, of course.
ANALYSIS: To say that Pacific Light Data Communication is "relatively new to the sub-sea cable game" is an understatement. When they first posted online a MOU with subsea supplier, TE SubCom in November 2015, indicating that they would pay the supplier US$10M just to perform a Desk Top Study, the industry scratched its collective head. However, the addition of Google and Facebook, both with track records in building submarine cables (some more successfully than others), the credibility of this proposed system has risen significantly. No doubt, TE SubCom has had a lot to do with facilitating this partnership between an unknown Chinese investor and two giant content providers.
There is, however, one major question mark remaining for the Pacific Light Cable Network. The US regulatory and national security authorities, collectively known as "Team Telecom" are known to be reluctant to award landing licences to any entity that appears to have connections to the People's Republic of China, let alone one that owns fiber pairs which connect directly into American telecom infrastructure.
The backing of a U.S. manufacturer and two major U.S.-based content providers will certainly add weight to the application but this project will come under heavy regulatory scrutiny and will almost certainly have a long lead-time for permitting on the U.S. side. If Team Telecom allows this project to land in U.S., it will create a precedent and lead to other proposals for new connections between China and North America to meet growing demand.
The economic justification for this cable system is a given. China's demand for international connectivity is growing fast. Not only is there increasing demand within China for North American content but home-grown Chinese content providers, Baidu, 10cent, and Ali Baba, are known to be making plans to shift their content outside PRC.
It is not known to what extent the three main Chinese carriers, China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile, are supporting this initiative. China Telecom has been in discussions with the SEA-US consortium to build an extension from China to Guam as an alternative to building "China-US-2" but the rise of Pacific Light may throw all the balls up in the air.
Julian Rawle, Author
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