Could Marseille be one of the last true coastal interconnection hubs established in Europe?



17 February 2020

By Mike Hollands, Director, Market Development and Strategy at Interxion

Submarine cables are the heroes of the internet. At just three inches thick, these pieces of communications infrastructure carry just a few optic fibres, yet have total capacities of up to 200Tbps, and better latencies than terrestrial networks. It’s quite impressive to think that once these cables are deployed, they simply operate unobtrusively in the depths of the ocean, transmitting more than 95 percent of the world’s intercontinental telecom traffic.

Key to the success of any subsea cable project are the cable landing locations. These are the locations, often a colocation data centre or cable landing station, where the submarine cables land and the submarine line terminating equipment (SLTE) meets the terrestrial networks.

Marseille for example, is one of the fastest growing coastal interconnection hubs in Europe. This growth has been fueled by Marseille’s strategic role as the digital gateway between Europe and Africa, Middle East and Asia. Interxion’s Marseille campus serves as the primary cable landing location in Marseille. In addition to serving as the landing station for 14 subsea cables, it is also home to 150 telco carriers, 4 internet exchanges and 11 content distribution networks, which enables many different entities to directly and privately exchange internet traffic from within one location.

However, today, with the evolution of technology and changing subsea cable business models, creating new coastal interconnection hubs is becoming increasingly challenging.

Innovating subsea technology

Historically, when a submarine cable lands, the SLTE has had to land in a location that is ten to fifteen kilometres off where it came ashore due to the technology’s extension capabilities. That is why a lot of today’s interconnection hubs exist on the coast. But some of the new improvements in technology that we’re seeing in this space enables the SLTE to be hundreds of kilometres away from the shore.

Imagine it’s announced that a submarine cable system is being built to land on the Atlantic coast of Spain or Portugal - with these new advancements in technology, this means that the submarine cable could land at a coastal site, but the SLTE could extend all the way to Interxion’s Madrid campus where there is already an existing community of interest to tap into. While this opens up opportunities for the subsea cable owners to benefit from the existing network already established in Madrid, it makes the coastal landing point more of a transit location and lessens the likelihood of it ever becoming an interconnection hub.

The evolution of the consortium model

In addition to subsea cable technology evolving, the subsea business model is changing as well. In the past, a consortium model has governed the industry. This model means that the submarine cable and the optic fibre technology it leverages are equally owned by each of the consortium members that enter the agreement together and pay for the capital intensive project. The parties involved must work together to make joint decisions regarding how the cable and its optic fibre pairs will be managed, including where to locate the SLTEs, what equipment to use, and when to upgrade.

This consortium model is quite restrictive and limits the various parties from making their own decisions. As such, the industry has moved towards an open system approach. The way this works is each co-builder of the subsea cable system owns specific optic fibre pairs in the cable and is solely responsible for the ones they own. For example, if there are five co-builders and 10 optic fibre pairs, each co-builder may own two of the optic fibre pairs, and make independent decisions in relation to them. In this model, the co-builders will collaborate on the underwater piece and where the cable lands, but as soon as it lands, they can make their own decisions on matters related to their two optic fibre pairs.

While this flexibility makes participating in subsea cable projects more attractive because co-builders can better meet their own objectives, it also means that all of the SLTEs will not end up in the same landing location. While some co-builders may choose to place their SLTEs at the coast, others may decide to leverage the latest technology and extend the SLTEs for their optic fibres to existing inland interconnection hubs, like those established by Interxion, across Europe. This business model will make it even more challenging for new coastal locations to gain traction as interconnection hubs.

The value of Marseille

While the fate of new coastal interconnection hubs emerging is still up in the air, existing coastal interconnection hubs, like Interxion Marseille, are extremely attractive for subsea cable operators to find their customers cost effectively. The large number of existing participants of Marseille’s interconnection community means subsea systems can acquire their desired customers in the city, rather than incurring the additional expense of a long terrestrial segment to other hubs.

If a bustling coastal interconnection hub sounds like something your business could benefit from, check out our Marseille campus, as we don’t know if there will be too many others like it established in the future!

We will be attending Submarine Networks EMEA 2020 to discuss all of this and more.
Visit us at booth #4 or stop by one of the speaking sessions I’ll be participating in: