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Global warming could enable undersea Arctic telecom route

Cloud computing and disaster recovery drive expansion of undersea optical telecommunications networks

By Jay Gillette, Network World
January 23, 2012 10:38 AM ET

Network World - HONOLULU -- "Harnessing Disruption: Global, Mobile, Social, Local," was the theme at the 34rd Pacific Telecommunications Council (PTC) conference last week in Honolulu.

As international telecommunications demand continues to expand against a background of global disruption, several thousand technology professionals with Asia-Pacific interests gathered for the annual conference. There were delegates and deal-makers from 54 countries and Honolulu-based PTC, the nongovernmental telecom industry organization, announced that the meeting surpassed its record attendance from last year.

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Professionals from the United States were the largest bloc, with China next, followed by Japan, India, Singapore, Europe and elsewhere. Industry sector representatives from satellite to undersea cable to wholesale telecommunications to call center operators, and academics, regulators, government and economic development specialists rubbed elbows in the casual yet high-stakes atmosphere.

Keynoter William Barney of Pacnet said the last four years were the most difficult in the telecommunications industry, due to economic recession, intense competition, and technology disruption and substitution. Yet he said that trends are building unprecedented opportunities for network providers, especially in cloud computing. These will allow applications services at unprecedented scale.

Subsea capacity booms, bringing new routes, including potential Arctic bypass

Some of the biggest news was continuing growth of subsea optical transmission networking, despite the fact that there's already ample "lit-capacity," or deployed network resources. In trans-Atlantic routes, for example, less than half lit-capacity is used.

Technical improvements have increased speed and extended the life of previously laid cables, but new routes and landing sites are adding lit-capacity worldwide. Many operators are adding capacity to provide reliability and redundancy, as well as new routes that reduce latency.

There is also discussion that unprecedented, previously unfeasible, Arctic routes now may be possible, because of melting Arctic icecap. These would allow traffic to flow from Asia directly to Europe, bypassing North American networks completely.

As to what is driving this demand, TeleGeography market researchers report that in the typical Atlantic route, for example, 75% of used subsea capacity carries Internet traffic, with a miniscule commitment to switched voice of just 0.2%. Private network traffic accounts for the rest of used subsea capacity. There will be no international carriage bottlenecks in the foreseeable future, notwithstanding earlier prophecy of capacity scarcity. This feared prediction is just not happening, according to reports at the conference.

Delegates again emphasized the continuing shift in the ratio of outbound Middle East communications traffic declining toward Europe and North America and increasing toward Asia. Traffic is rapidly increasing in Africa and other previously underserved areas, but U.S. inbound and outbound traffic still dominates. For example, conference sponsor Infinera touted its 100G Ethernet switching capacity with NTT partner Pacific Crossing's 9,500-kilometer transpacific cable. Their target is to access Asia's 922 million Internet users, according to their strategic vision.

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