Microsoft and Facebook announced an agreement to build a new, state-of-the-art subsea cable across the Atlantic. The new "MAREA" cable will help meet the growing customer demand for high speed, reliable connections for cloud and online services for Microsoft, Facebook, and their customers. The parties have cleared conditions to go Contract-In-Force (CIF) with their plans, and construction of the cable will commence in August 2016 with completion expected in October 2017.
Marea Cable Map
Microsoft and Facebook are collaborating on this system to accelerate the development of the next-generation of Internet infrastructure and support the explosion of data consumption and rapid growth of their respective cloud and online services. MAREA will be the highest-capacity subsea cable ever to cross the Atlantic – eight fiber pairs and an initial estimated design capacity of 160 Tbit/s. The new 6,600 km submarine cable system, to be operated and managed by Telxius, Telefónica's new telecommunications infrastructure company, will also be the first to connect the United States to southern Europe, from the data hub of Northern Virginia to Bilbao, Spain and then to network hubs in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This route is south of other transatlantic cable systems, thereby helping ensure more resilient and reliable connections for customers in the United States, Europe, and beyond.
Microsoft and Facebook designed MAREA to be interoperable with a variety of networking equipment. This new "open" design brings significant benefits for customers: lower costs and easier equipment upgrades which leads to faster growth in bandwidth rates since the system can evolve at the pace of optical technology innovation.
Microsoft and Facebook are working with Telxius to build upon Telefónica's longstanding experience in subsea cables for this innovative new system. Telxius will serve as the operator of the system and sell capacity as part of their wholesale infrastructure business.
"As the world is increasingly moving toward a future based on cloud computing, Microsoft continues to invest in our cloud infrastructure to meet current and future growing global demand for our more than 200 cloud services, including Bing, Office 365, Skype, Xbox Live and the Microsoft Azure platform," said Christian Belady, General Manager, Datacenter Strategy, Planning & Development, Microsoft Corp. "The MAREA transatlantic cable we're building with Facebook and Telxius will provide new, low-latency connectivity that will help meet the increasing demand for higher-speed capacity across the Atlantic. By building the cable along this new southern route, we will also increase the resiliency of our global network, helping ensure even greater reliability for our customers."
"Facebook wants to make it possible for people to have deep connections and shared experiences with the people who matter to them most — anywhere in the world, and at any time," said Najam Ahmad, Vice President of Network Engineering at Facebook. "We're always evaluating new technologies and systems in order to provide the best connectivity possible. By creating a vendor-agnostic design with Microsoft and Telxius, we can choose the hardware and software that best serves the system and ultimately increase the pace of innovation. We want to do more of these projects in this manner — allowing us to move fast with more collaboration. We think this is how most subsea cable systems will be built in the future."
"Working with Facebook and Microsoft in this project will reinforce Telxius' position as a worldwide leading infra company not only expanding on-net capabilities to Spain and the USA but also allowing us to capture market opportunities in Western Europe and new emerging routes in Northern Africa and other regions," said Rafael Arranz, Chief Operating Officer of Telxius Cable.
Source: Microsoft & Facebook Joint Press Release
ANALYSIS: After years of hypercompetition caused by oversupply on previously bankrupt cables, construction of new systems in the Transatlantic market has come alive with a vengeance. First, Hibernia Networks built its Hibernia Express cable to address the lowest-latency market segment; then, Aquacomms managed to get the funding, thanks to Microsoft, for its AE Connect cable which addresses more general demand for transatlantic connectivity. Google is also rumored to be planning a new transatlantic cable called "Jupiter".
Demand growth on this route is certainly strong. JRC estimates that current demand is in the region of 30-40 Tbit/s and growing at 50% per year. A significant part of this demand is for connectivity driven by the services provided by content providers, and for synchronization of the content providers' data centers. The percentage of traffic which is being handled by traditional carriers, such as Telefónica, is dwindling. Moreover, the margin on wholesale transatlantic bandwidth sold to Third Parties, is now miniscule.
Telefónica would normally have joined a consortium to build its next transatlantic connection but the last consortium cable to be built in this market was TAT-14 in 2001 and there seems little appetite among traditional carriers for a TAT-15.
Telefónica has recently made the strategic decision to put all its submarine and mobile tower assets into a separate infrastructure company called "Telxius" and has, for the last three years been embarked on a significant program of investment in telecom infrastructure which includes two new submarine fiber optic cables connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America to North America. Clearly, adding new transatlantic infrastructure was part of this program but Telefónica would have been struggling to find partners among the traditional carriers. Under the circumstances, a deal with the new "Kings of Submarine" made sense. Telefónica is not competing directly with Facebook and Microsoft and gets the exclusive right to market Third Party wholesale bandwidth on Marea because the content providers are not interested in this marginal business. They simply want masses of bandwidth and additional diversity.
Marea is the first cable where two content providers have collaborated, acknowledging that building separate intercontinental cables is inefficient and rather pointless as there is still plenty of scope for competition in the markets at either end of the cable. Google continues to plough its own furrow but a trend towards collaboration on building the next generation of intercontinental submarine fiber optic cables is not unexpected.
The Press Release also refers to the innovative nature of Marea's design and states that the project is "Contract-In-Force" but the supplier is not mentioned. The concept of "Open Systems" has been around for a few years and is now beginning to take hold. System Suppliers have had to accept that interoperability of their turnkey system solutions is now a pre-requisite. Indeed, the cable, repeaters, and branching units for AE Connect were supplied by TE SubCom but the initial terminal equipment came from Ciena. It is likely that Marea will be built in a similar way.
Julian Rawle, Author
Thought leadership articles and commentary on developments related to the subsea fibre optic cable industry can be found here.