5 Industry Leaders Provide Insight Into Ireland’s Subsea Cable Landscape - Q&A

Our live panel as our industry leaders discussed: 

  • Key facts about existing subsea infrastructure, 

  • Future plans, 

  • Challenges (including Marine Maintenance) and opportunities, 

  • Terrestrial networks (demand vs supply); 

  • Ireland's role as a gateway to Europe

In the live event there was an opportunity to submit questions to our panelists, if your question wasn't answered during the event our panelists took the time to answer them here.

1. Do you see any increased support in the next 5 years from Irish Government for subsea landings ?

NB: as discussed on the panel, Marine Spatial planning and Communications consultation has recently been undertaken. This provides the market and industry view and suggestions for streamlining and supporting further connectivity and deepening of the connections with European colleagues, with UK and with North America and Beyond.

MH: Awareness of the role subsea cables play in economic development is becoming stronger in many countries, and I see most providing increased support for subsea landings, including Ireland. The subsea community, like all industries, must continue to enhance its effectiveness in engaing with government institutions.

2. Confluence-1 is connecting the US cable landing sites on the East Coast. PISCES is planned to connect the Spanish, French and Irish/UK landing points - to provide a connection between these - so is this ring protection also supported by the Hyperscalers?

TW: I don't think we can comment on specifics of other people's projects. But to go back to my answer on the panel: due to the relatively low volume of fibre pairs on amplified systems, you tend to get a concentration of capacity ownership in low single-figures of sponsors. The recent trend is for hyperscale to be in the majority in terms of stakeholdings in these developments. There will always be exceptions but it's a reasonable assumption.

NB: Systems like this - continental or country festoon - connecting together the independent landing locations of trans-oceanic systems, tend to have different specific reasons or justifications. It isn't clear that such systems feature in the reliablity matrix for a lot of the bigger users/hyperscalers. These systems tend to be mostly in shallow water and therefore cost more per km, but they can provide a good option for near-shore backhaul, if terrestrial connectivity is difficult or less

3. Is the new cable landing point in Galway for the IRIS cable system opening up a new area for the South of Ireland - next landing point in Cork?

MH: Cork hasn't materialised as a new hub for multiple subsea cables, with new projects continuing to have their focus on connecting terresterially to Dublin, and no significant community of interest developing in Cork to make that a reason for landing close by.

4. Apart from the hyperscale use of the subsea ables - have any of the panelists seen any innovation in how we as an island exploit the data and capacity that these cables are delivering to Ireland? Whether that's exploiting our position and especially the west coast position as the closest physical location in the EU to the US on the great circle route - are there any developments on encouraging innovation on services or companies to make these work better for Ireland .. or are we a corridor for data between the US and Europe (EU and UK) in the main?

TW: Ireland is already focused on and benefiting from it's geography, and cultural ties with the US in developing a digital economy and digital infrastructure. I'd say it's more likely the prominence of hyperscalers has drawn the cables to Ireland than the other way round. As I see it, the opportunity is more to grow the supporting ecosystem around these hyperscalers; perhaps also to try and exploit the terrestrial infrastructure to aid broadband deployment; and to try and harness the investment needed in green energy and distribution to accelerate Ireland's energy transition, rather than seeing it as an impeder to that. But as a Brit I recognise there's probably greater expertise elsewhere in our panel on this subject!

MH: I think those that have invested in data centres and subsea cables in Ireland should all be doing more to underline Ireland being the closest location in the EU to the US. More events like this subsea cable webinar, and better explanation to enterprises of the advantages lower latency to the US can bring them.

5. For the purported 40 cables of additional growth, where is the most pointed need? We already have multiple "swim lanes" of cables: Is there a new need from a geographic point of view or is it mostly driving by the need for additional capacity?

NB: Capacity predominantly - this comes from a telegeography empirical calculation of the overall route bandwidth needed, coupled with the expected technology advancement from 8-16-24 fibre pairs on oceanic systems. The generally accepted 'mesh' for reliabilty is 4 routes, but latency also is a factor, between the precise DC hubs considered.

6. Given the scale of development offshore (offshore wind, other future technology), do you see any risks to physical resilience and diversity of the telecommunications infrastructure emerging as the seabed becomes more crowded?

TW: yes. this already was covered on the call but just to add to what Ciaran and Nigel said: I think even with cooperation and a more deliberately planned approach, we can expect things to get harder. Planned corridors are likely to drive concentration which could lead to reduced diversity. We can also expect more cable crossings whatever happens, and these add complexity to deployment and maintenance. But more wind farms and more cables are both vitally important and we just need to make it work as best we can.

NB: cooperative development is the only solution, as it doesnt seem to make as much sense to sterilise vast areas of coastline for one specific industry usage

7. Any plans to explore quantum communication that may be viable by 2035?

TW: it's an interesting field but right now today, we have no plans. We will continue to track developments. euNetworks recently announced we are working with Lumenisity on deploying Hollow Core Fibre. There is some potential for this technology to also become more disruptive in the long haul environment, in a shorter timeframe than quantum. Again it is very early days, but we are now working on it.

8. If global warming continues and sea level rises are any landing locations at risk?

NB: given the lifespan of a cable, and even longer potential lifespan for a landing location, we do tend to look at the 50 year position in our engineering considerations. Increasing tsunami/freak wave risk is also a consideration in our planning. The equipment can be moved progressively further from the nominal coast, as needed, so we have a lot of protection mechanisms. Many other things will be problematic before subsea fibre connectivity.

9. Brexit and regulatory and tariff issues?

NB: no issues experienced as yet. International SubSea still afforded the same general rights as per UNCLOS, etc. Unclear what the data residency regulations might ultimately require, but, if anything, it might likely increase the need for connectivity - between islands of data.

10. How do the panelists see the cable maintenance industry changing in the coming years?

NB: potentially re-converging - less 'choice' but a more rounded solution for each ocean, and with greater vessel efficiency.

11. In terms of leveraging current assets, including existing and planned cables, and maintaining Irelands key Hub status, how concerned are the panel about the evolving power situation on the Island?

TW: I'm not close enough to have the detail on Ireland but on a pan-European basis, data centre power consumption is being raised in most major markets. The public discourse is to an extent being influenced by the media which wants to drive a less nuanced conversation. Amsterdam is probably most advanced in this discourse and the outcome there is a more planned approach, which allows for sustainable investment and growth and for digital infrastructure to fit in with all the localities' other needs. I expect we will see a similar process in each European country, flavoured by cultural preferences and regional specifics. As a useful point of reference though, there's an IEA report here: https://www.iea.org/reports/data-centres-and-data-transmission-networks which highlights that net energy growth from telecom/ cloud computing is not as huge as being made out, due to the efficiency gains they are driving in substituting older platforms. Of course that's only one view but hopefully adds some context as to why this conversation has nuance. The subject is discussed at some length in a recent CBRE webinar here: https://cbre.qumucloud.com/view/nABvmga06T8#/

12. A question for Nigel - has your customer profile changed over the last 5 years? Do you see more OTT companies contracting higher capacities than what AquaComms is used to?

NB: The profile is evolving, but it always has to some degree. 30 years ago it would have been regulated PTTs. 15-20 years ago it was almost exclusively carriers and largely voice pattern/IPLC driven (people were the use-case) and in the last 5 years it has been more machine driven - DC to DC. The predominance now of non-Telco (perhaps as an easier to understand definition) is higher and growing. The carriers are perhaps delivery partners now, with non-Telco being the predominant driver of growth.