A SINGTEL consortium has appointed (Nokia) Alcatel Submarine Networks to build a new international subsea cable system which will strengthen links between Australia and South-east Asia, providing faster connection speed and enhanced reliability.
Figure 5 – Indigo West Cable Map
Aside from SingTel, the other members in the consortium are AARNet, Google, Indosat Ooredoo, SubPartners and Telstra.
When completed, the Indigo cable system will span approximately 9,000km and connect Singapore and Perth, and onwards to Sydney. Landing in existing facilities in Singapore, Australia and Indonesia, the system will also allow connections between Singapore and Jakarta.
Figure 6 – Indigo Central Cable Map
The system will use a two-fibre pair "open cable" design with spectrum-sharing technology. This allows consortium members to share ownership of spectrum within the cable, giving them the ability to independently take advantage of technology advancements and future upgrades as required.
ANALYSIS: With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems rather obvious that the solution to building a replacement for the old SEA-ME-WE-3 segment between Singapore and Perth, Australia should be based on a consortium, spreading the risk over a number of entities. However, for nearly twenty years, the industry has been trying to build privately on this route while SingTel (Optus) and Telstra milked the SEA-ME-WE-3 link for as long as they could.
Indigo’s broad coalition of Singaporean, Australian, and Indonesian incumbents, together with a global content provider, a private entrepreneur, and an academic network provider is likely to overcome many of the issues, most notably, funding and permitting, faced by private developers on this route.
Trident Submarine Cable Company is now publicly stating that they have re-focused on re-selling capacity around Indonesia and Singapore and have abandoned plans to build between Perth and Singapore.
Australian 2nd Tier network operator, Vocus, took on the “ASC” (Australia-Singapore Cable) with its acquisition of NextGen but Vocus is now itself the subject of a takeover by KKR, making progress on the ASC cable project look even more remote.
It is also interesting to note that ASN funded the Marine Survey for ASC and a turnkey supply contract was supposedly put into force in December 2016. ASN may be amenable to letting KKR off the hook if they can use the Marine Survey for Indigo.
Apart from the inclusion of an Indonesian partner to handle permitting issues in Indonesian waters, the other aspect of this announcement which brings Indigo to the forefront and the most likely solution for a cable on this route is the adoption of spectrum-sharing technology on a relatively conservative 2-fiber cable design. Spectrum-sharing creates “virtual fibers” for each partner which can be upgraded in isolation from each other according to each partner’s requirements. This will be the first time that the spectrum-sharing model has been implemented in the submarine cable industry.
This approach has been touted by Bevan Slattery, CEO of SubPartners. Slattery has been trying to build on this route for a number of years. He initiated the “APX-West” project in January 2013 and has worked gradually to bring in other partners. When he announced that SingTel and Telstra had joined in the project, Pioneer Consulting was skeptical that a 3-way partnership would work. However, the inclusion of Google and Ooredoo Indosat, along with AARNet, makes the composition of the consortium look far more workable.
Julian Rawle, Author
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