Kentik - Network Observability
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Telemetry Now  |  Season 1 - Episode 10  |  March 21, 2023

Connecting the world: Undersea cables with Alan Mauldin

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With the proliferation of public cloud technologies and Wi-Fi, it can be easy to forget that much of the world's connectivity happens via hardwired submarine networking cables and infrastructure that crosses the planet's oceans. In today's episode, host Phil Gervasi sits down with Doug Madory and Alan Mauldin to discuss geography and geopolitics impact on network access. Alan Mauldin is a Research Director at TeleGeography, and has worked with Doug for many years, and together they help paint a picture of how internet flows and connects continents, that is when sharks aren't biting through the cables! Is it a myth? Tune in to find out.

Key Takeaways:

  • [00:01 - 02:19] Introduction to Alan Mauldin
  • [02:23 - 05:31] How Doug and Alan got to know and work together with TeleGeography
  • [05:31 - 06:17] Conferences related to network geography
  • [06:19 - 07:44] Explaining the flow of networks across submarine cables and satellites
  • [07:46 - 08:37] Cables vs satellites, different use cases
  • [08:37 - 12:06] Everyone benefits from investments by content providers in submarine cables
  • [12:07 - 13:53] Shared ownership and building submarine cables for the public good
  • [13:54 - 16:51] A shift towards fiber pairs to improve latency across distances
  • [16:53 - 19:11] Why would a cable be retired? Did a shark eat it, or is that a myth?
  • [19:12 - 23:03] Who is involved in making submarine cables reality, who owns the responsibilities?
  • [23:04 - 25:17] The geopolitics of laying cables between countries who aren't on the friendliest terms
  • [25:19 - 30:36] The ALBA-1 submarine cable to Cuba
  • [30:36 - 33:43] Context around direct and indirect side effects with the US/China cables
  • [33:44 - 39:53] What has changed with undersea cable technology in regard to the growth of public cloud technology?
  • [39:53 - 45:51] Built-in logic and intelligence in undersea cable infrastructure


How does the massive amount of internet traffic really get around the world so fast, so reliably, pretty much regardless of what country you're in?

Now the answer isn't satellites, not even close.

Under our oceans is an entire ecosystem system of undersea fiber optic cable technology crisscrossing thousands of miles back and forth beneath waves, moving huge amounts of data from data center to data center country to country, continent to continent.

So how does that work? Who owns those cables? Who repairs them? Who pays for them? And not only that, how do they work and how much data can these submarine cables actually move?

With us today is Alan Malden, research director at telegeography, and a subject matter expert on the submarine cables making the global internet possible.

Also joining again today is Doug Madore, director of internet analysis at Kentech.

Now in this episode, we'll be answering those questions and more, and we'll even get into some of the geopolitical nuance of submarine My name is Philip Dhruvasse, and this is telemetry now.

Alan, thank you for joining us today. Really appreciate it. Just having spoken to Doug quite a bit about what you do. And then, of course, the fact that everybody in our industry seems to be enamored when we look at submarine cable maps. Am I right? It really is cool to talk to you today. Can you give our audience just a little bit of your background, what you do for telegeography, of course, but but your background overall as a as somebody in this field.

Thanks Phil. I'm really happy to be here today and and talk talk to you guys.

So I'm a director of research at tele telegeography.

We're a a market research company focused really on the international telecom industry So we're gathering data on the supply that made a bandwidth globally on the submarine cables, the terrestrial networks, the IP backbones, data centers, looking at the pricing of various services as well, from, from wavelengths to IP transit to enterprise services as well. So covering a wide range of research areas, at tele telegeography.

Excellent. Thank you, Alan. Really glad to have you on today. And, Doug, also great to have you on and turning to us as well. Can you explain to us a little bit, about your own professional background, of course, but also what your experience is working with Alan and telegeography, from the perspective in the context of internet analysis.

Yeah. So I've been doing internet measurement on the internet analysis since two thousand nine back when I was with Renisys. And one of the initial requests I had from, my boss at the time was Hey, we get always get asked about submarine cable this or that. Can you see if you can figure out, can we see submarine cable events, activations, breaks in our measurement data.

And, so I started to try to, get smart on the field and follow like headlines. I was a subscriber to all of, Lisa, the tell director for free stuff. I've just like announcements about cables and they're like, alright, what can I see, you know, an activation? And that led to, once I started to get kinda good at that, then it led to a couple of discoveries.

One of those being activation of the Alba one submarine cable to Cuba, which we just, celebrated the ten, ten year anniversary last month of that activation. And so, anyway, so that's that's why I got into submarine cable stuff was, it's not that easy to map internet measurement data to submarine cables because they don't always things aren't labeled. You have to kind of make a lot of inferences.

Yeah. I mean, occasionally, there is a submarine cable owned by a, a telecom that does a IP service that strictly using that, that cable. So in the case of, like, Angola cables or CCOM or, like, just a few that there's there's an IP transit service that also goes over the cable, but then there's lots of other stuff that goes over the cable too. That's not you'd have you have to infer who is using it based on outages.

Over the years with the additional cables, it's become, harder, it's better it's better for all of us, it's better for the internet, a lot more resilience, but as an analyst, trying to make these inferences, it becomes more more difficult. But yeah, it's It's a bit of an art, trying to, suss out, a submarine cable, event in internet measurement data.

Yeah. Which is why you work with folks like Alan and and others, I'm sure. Yeah.

So then I started getting into this, and then I I got on to, Alan and Tim's radar. I think we crossed pals at a NANog or, conference. And we started, chatting, and then I got invited to one of the summary cable conferences, Alan.

Is, on the program committee for, and he and I would kind of kick off for a couple of years there.

The two day conference in Singapore. It's so fascinating. I mean, as as fascinating, you know, Phil, you're mentioning, this is just a topic of fascination to people in this field and even not in this field. Even as somebody who's been in it for a while, it's still kind of amazing that this is how it all works. But then getting to, you know, speaking a bunch of these conferences and meet the people who are involved in the industry. It is, it's a interesting, place, unto itself, the submarine cable industry.

What are some of those conferences? Cause I, obviously, I'm very familiar with Nanog and and some of the other, conferences out there. But I'm I'm really not that familiar with the submarine cable conferences. That's what they're even called.

Alan, do you wanna take this?

I mean, there's a few I see, you know, one is submarine networks world and Singapore each year. One and and London as well in, in the spring, but also just the major telecom events have a heavy summer cable focus like the PTC Conference in Hawaii in January.

And other of their regional, capacity events, whether it's in Dubai or Brazil often have a heavy focus on substitute cables because cables are just one part of the overall system of how the world connects, right? So there's things that need to be discussed alongside cables, whether it's data centers, terrestrial networks, You know, all these things play a play a role in in getting the the world to think together.

Yeah. Yeah. In fact, just this morning, before I left the house, I have some some workers in my house remodeling, and one of them was framing a a new closet for me. And he was asking me about what I did for a living, and I was talking being a network engineer, which I'm really not anymore because I work in technical marketing, but whatever.

You know, I I always say network engineer anyway, and we're talking about that stuff. And, you know, he starts bringing up internet stuff and websites. Could you design my website? I'm like, no, that's not what network can do.

You fixed my printer.

Yeah. Right. Standard answer. Can you fix my wireless printer? But then he, I I got it in my head to say, hey, you know, let me show you this picture because I knew we were gonna be recording this podcast this morning.

So I I queue up a submarine cable map on my phone. And I show it to him, like, here here's what the submarine cables look like that carry, like, internet traffic around the world. And he's looking at it, like, what?

And he was so enamored with that picture on my phone pinching and zooming and looking in and zooming in on all the connections between North America and Europe, primarily, but then, like, kinda looking around even noticed like those single little blue and orange lines that would go across the Indian Ocean to one island, which I assume is some island nation.

Right? Really, really cool. And, and then to him, you know, his response was I thought it was all satellites.


And that's probably a common misconception for a lay person. But the reality is that satellites have virtually nothing to do with moving global internet traffic around the world. That it's, almost entirely physical media fiber optic undersea cables that do that for us. Right?

Yeah. That's absolutely right. I mean, the the vast majority of all intercontinental communications is going over, severing cable It's not going over satellites. So satellites do have a great job of providing an alternate in the user access technology to you know, reach remote places, underserved areas, airplane ships, things like this, but they are in no way capable of carrying the volume data that's being carried by a sub subassembling cable.

I think, you know, one fiber pair on one cable is this is the same capacity as, like, the entire starlink system.

How was that right?

So you can just think about how that's a very high capacity.

It's a light system. Yeah. And it's gonna do it's a it's a very useful for linking people remotely to the internet, but it could not carry the day that's being sent between continents around the world at all.

It wasn't even designed to do that, right? It was, that's in the point of StarLink anyways. Cables have a very important role. That's gonna be the way for the, for the future, thus far. We can tell you know, we're seeing more money going into new cable construction over the next three years, like over ten billion dollars is going into new cables, really all over the world. You're seeing cables in the Atlantic Pacific, South America, you know, Africa is getting too massive new cables installed in, during this year and, and next year. So really a boom time right now for where, submarine cables around the world.

Alan, what's the, what's the cost for that? Is the, is this Is it just capacity, or is there more resilience or, lower latencies between particular locations, or is it What's the driving factor?

The driving factor for new cables, you know, there's many factors, of course, that that that drive new cables. I mean, the the the most obvious is demand growth. You know, whenever you have demand for bandwidth internationally growing, you know, thirty, forty percent between most areas, That's like almost doubling every two two years. Right? So, there's need over time to just build new cables to meet that demand.

There was many cables built, you know, in the telecom boom, like the late nineties or early early two thousands. These cables, you know, many are still in service. They're being a great hub of providing a high level of bandwidth, but they can't scale much anymore.

So they're gonna be turned off, actually, probably in the next four or five years, some of them have already been turned off. We're gonna see, you know, a couple turned off this year. I mean, the, the Japan US cable can be turned off in, July of this year for example.

So when you have older cables going out of service, you got new ones coming in. You gotta have more than one or two. Right? You have to have diversity because no one knows cables exist partially because when they break, no one notices.

Right? Because there's there's so many that are in place there's outages that happen all the time globally, but you don't you don't hear about it. So building not just one or two, but three, four, five high capacity cables to help meet the demand going forward is is is a very important part of what's happening right now.

Lower latency, as you mentioned, it's a desirable trade always for cables to follow a more direct path to the extent it's possible to do, to do that. But latency alone does not drive new, new, new cable construction, really.

The other, I guess, big angle to, to bring out, which is, I think, people are probably pretty aware of this. The main, the main company's building or funding a lot of the, new cables. Now are the hyperscalers content providers cloud provider, whatever you wanna call them. It's Google and meta, Amazon, and Microsoft. Those four companies are are heavily involved in cables all over the world having for some time. And and are really trying to, you know, link together their data centers and their large user bases globally with their own fiber.

They have far more demand than telecom carriers do, Internet backbone providers do for capacity. So, now they don't have their own cables that other companies have their own cables, cables are a shared resource, right? Everybody's using the same cable. It even though there's like, there's like just a cable for the internet, backbones, issued a cable for the kind of providers. Everybody's using the same cables.

So everybody benefits from the investments by content providers in the submarine cables, that we're seeing deployed around the world.

So it sounds like these aren't owned by a single private company that sounds more like a cooperative of companies of investment. And then maybe also nations as well, investing for the public good.

Yeah. Most often is these these cables are built by multiple parties. They aren't just built by one company in most cases. You know, you know, Google has built some cables of which they are the they are the the the sole owner of, but then other companies do get access to capacity on those cables, right? So, so orange can provide you capacity on the do not cable between France, United States.

So there is, there is the ability for all types of users to get access to these cables, even though Google was the sole builder of of the cable.

There's also like a lot of I've I've just, again, from doing analysis on this over the years, and how how much more difficult it is to tease out individual submarine cable instance, and that's a good thing.

But like, there was a time where, you know, like, like, I think in east, Middle East, East Africa, Tata, you could map. You know, they we knew who their they were investors, what cables they were investors or owners of, and they would be using those. And if that cable went down, then they were the services off. And that's not a scenario that really happens anymore because they're gonna buy capacity on the competing. They may own one cable, but they're gonna buy some backup capacity on a repeating cable.

Absolutely. Yeah.

And so then when it goes down, it's hard to find the impact which again is a good thing but it wasn't always that way there was used to be a little bit more one to one as far as like the, a telecom owning a cable, they would be just using that one cable.

That's the end of the That's right.

Arrangement. That's right. Absolutely.

So, Alan, can you tell us a little bit more about the underlying technology here? I mean, I'm familiar with fiber optics in a broad sense, wavelengths and the different types of fiber and that sort of thing. But ultimately, I know that for very long distances, you have, the potential for latency problems and for issues with power, just getting that signal down a very, very long run. And in this case, we're talking about thousands of of kilometers and miles, of course. And also from a traditional network engineer's perspective, the concern is usually with latency, because that directly affects an application's performance.

But what you mentioned wasn't latency, what you mentioned was volume.

So it sounds like the concern here for you and for undersea cable industry is moving massive amounts of data and not necessarily with latency.

Yeah. So the the the the the cables that are going the long distances have repeaters in them that boost the signal, you know, in them. And so because of that, they they are they are powered.

And there are limits to how many fiber pairs you can put in a single cable across the ocean. You can't put a hundred and ninety two fiber pairs, at least not, not yet, in a long haul cable.

Across the ocean. So currently, what we're seeing is a shift in industry from trying to, boost the capacity carried by a single, a single optical fiber pair to seeing more fiber pairs in the cable. So in the past, you'd have, you know, four to six, five repairs and a cable, but now we're seeing twelve, sixteen, and even twenty four coming. So the the, the newest or the, the latest greatest cable in the Atlantic coming next year being built by, Meta is going to have twenty four five repairs and it's and they say it's gonna be capable of carrying five hundred terabits per second of capacity.

So half a petabit on one cable is it and the the future design capacity of the system. So, we're gonna see that going forward, you know, more more more fiber repairs to to boost the capacity. Other things that are being considered as ways to boost the capacity as well, whether it's, you know, multi core fiber or, C plus L, things like this that are being looked at as well. But there's constant efforts to try to boost the capacity of a cable because you know, once the cable is is in water in the in the water, you can change the things on the ends, the the shore ends, the the the SLTE the the the terminal equipment, you can try to improve things there, but you can't really change the fibers.

You can't change the repeaters, at least not very easily. So, so you want to ensure you're doing the, the best job you can on day one to get the highest capacity in the water because cables are designed to last for a minimum of twenty five years.

So, is that right?

It's a it's it's a very long long term investment.

So then so then explain why a cable would be considered old and then retired. You mentioned that earlier. Is it is it, just a capacity problem or physically the cable's deteriorating because some, you know, megalodon chewed on it and under the water.

Are you implying that sharks eat cables fill?

Oh, I'm I'm hoping they do be and and that we have video.

That is a myth Is it really a That's a myth?


Oh. Myth. Myth. Absolutely. It is. Sharks don't buy cable. I mean, in in years ago, there was a few cases of of this happening, but but in the last, you know, twenty five years, there's no cases of any animals biting cables that cause a fall truly is just it's it's fishing, it's anchors, and there's things like, you know, earthquakes and volcano is like the Tonga thing last year.

So why are cables, turned off? Well, they they they do have this this, you know, the design life of of twenty five years, but it's in it's an economic issue as well, not not just, the the cable lifespan if cables can't if their capacity can't scale enough to to offer a, you know, comparable, you know, unit cost per terabyte of capacity compared to the the newer cables become it becomes very expensive to operate because with the cable, you are paying a lot of money for the upfront cost to install it, but you're also paying some some O and M, some opex every, every year, just to maintain the cable.

You have a fleet of ships on standby to go out and fix the cable if it breaks. You have to have that. Right? And so if your cable is carrying five terabytes, and the other guys, cables are carrying, you know, a couple hundred terabytes, your five terabytes are very expensive.

Alright? So that can they can make it a candidate for being turned off purely because it's a very expensive cable to run. Technical issues you know, can can exist. If there's a lot of faults in the cable over the the life of the cable that that can impair the ability to upgrade the the cable, So cable also is in a it's just, you know, let's say it's very fault prone, maybe you'd you're you're inclined to just turn the cable off instead of having to constantly deal with having to pay to repair the cable as well. But there's there's many factors that come into this of, of, when you turn off a cable.

You have to get all the all the owners to agree to it as well.

Yeah. You mentioned that earlier. Sometimes there are or often there are multiple private and even public investors and and owners with an ownership stake in these undersea cables. So my question is who owns the boats? Who owns the repair and maintenance obligation? And then who makes that decision about decommissioning a cable?

Depends on each cable being different. Right? But it's I think it's fair to say that different parties could have different values that they are getting from the cable. So some party may think, well, this is like one of my three cables that come to my country for me, it's really important to have this cable.

I don't wanna turn it off. But somebody else in the, in the, in the cable consortium, maybe has you know, ten cables and they're like, this this is an old one. Let's turn it off. I'm tired of paying for it.

There could be there could be one one party in the consortium who makes a lot a lot a lot of money on the the backhaul or the cross connects in the cable station. Right? So they they don't wanna turn that they don't turn off that, money money money they want to keep that, that going for their own, their own selfish reasons. So there's a lot of things that go into turning cables off, but, we are seeing it happens slowly, as I mentioned, what you know, couple this year, and there's several the last couple of years.

So it's the the map of cables that we see on our on our cable map is is changing slowly with new ones being added, you know, all the time. But also some lines do go away. We we don't show cables that have been turned off on our map.

But, Alan, you know, like, I, you know, this better than me. This is a more year industry, but just from being around the the space, you know, there's a, interesting ecosystem of the people in the submarine cable industry where there are, you know, the fabrication companies that fabricate the cable which may be different than the installer, the the people who are gonna put it in the ships in the in the water. And then there's these various different types of consultants that will help you with the international permitting. There's a bunch of legal things.

There's also a business case that you have to, maybe it's less less an issue when, you've got these, hyperscalers, just footing the bill for everything, but I know that when I first started attending these things, it seemed like half the conversations were just around all the economics and making sure you can get this right because there's a, as you mentioned, there's a big upfront cost. There's a fair amount of risk think it break and now you have to pay to fix it. You're not making money when it's down.

And the, so it's it's a, a bit of a, it could be a risky endeavor, that you need to make sure you you understand the economics of it, It is for sure.

Anyway, so have I left anybody out? Is that there's there's like a a variety of different types of people, involved in making a cable a reality?

That's a very fair coverage of it, but I would, one thing you said about the, it does the business side not matter anymore because you have content guys doing the bill. I would I would disagree somewhat, I mean, because, you know, the cables need to be viable, I think, and they they do and they do involve parties who who who aren't these content providers. And so they they have to look at what are their internal demand requirements to serve, maybe their, their broadband customer base, their enterprise customers, are they going to try and wholesale capacity at what rates can they solve it at? So we do a lot of work at TelJography trying to help companies who want to build new cables and to do their, their commercial side business plans for them to help look at Now, what are the, what are the revenue prospects for your cable?

Sure, twenty five years is a long life for a cable, but you're hoping that in the next, you know, five, six years that it's it's it's the right choice and is able to to pay to pay for itself. And there's there's a lot of risk. Right?

Demand growth fluctuates, price erosion also, you know, goes up and down.

There's there's new com competing cables coming online that can take, you know, market share from from your your cable. Lots of variables here that need to be considered when looking at building a new cable.

Alan, he mentioned that there has been a steady growth in the in the demand for undersea cable capacity over the years.

Yeah, with some ebbs and flows, but ultimately resulting in more cable being laid, including this new one that you mentioned, that's crossing the Atlantic. That's a very high capacity.

But I have to imagine that this could pose an issue when new cable is being laid in between and among countries that are not necessarily friendly with each other.

Ah, yes. Here we go.

Yeah. I I I know Doug has written a lot and, and blog about some some of some of the some of these issues with, Cuba and the US recently, just for some background for the audience, I guess, so if if, if years back there was plans to build a new cable between the mainland of the US and Hong Kong Philippines in Taiwan, the US government, you know, blocked that cable from, from being, from being, licensed, claiming that, you know, one, there were some concerns about the, one of the parties the ownership being having some Chinese government ties. That was one angle. The other angle was that the fact that it's it just went to Hong Kong. That it went to Chinese territory, that was a problem somehow.

And and so a few other cables that were had also been planned to go between Hong Kong and the US more than canceled subsequently and and are trying to be rerouted or redesigned to avoid this path. And so you know, that happened to me. It was kind of interesting.

You know, I I can't speak to the, you know, the national security threats and this type of thing, but I I can say that there there are currently cables that exist that are in service between China and the United States right now.

So that already exists, those are in place. Those are still active. Also data is going between China in the US all the time on cables that do not link the countries directly. You know, data can go via Japan.

Right, which is what the vast majority of it does actually. So by blocking these cables, that doesn't really do anything to change the fact that data is going to going to still flow between the two countries.

That was kind of an interesting, you know, point point there. And the issue with the And, and also recently, the thing that Doug wrote about was that the government had blocked the plans to build a branch from a cable that goes to the US branch to to to to Cuba.

And and, so what does that do? Well, Cuba already has two cables are gonna have one, one more soon. It just means it doesn't mean that Cuba can't communicate with the United States. It just means that the data is gonna go via a third country.

So I'm not really sure what's being, accomplished by these plans to to block these these cables it just leads to a rerouting of the demand among different places, and I don't see how it creates any additional security for the United States by by by doing this. But Again, I'm not an expert in national security.

So I'm I'll maybe I'll jump in here.

Please do.

So I wrote Yeah. I wrote a a piece, last month.

Just, in anticipation of the ten year anniversary of the the one submarine cable to Cuba. So just to, maybe, to recap why this is an interesting thing, why it was interesting ten years ago, was that Cuba had been left. There's a, you know, US embargo against Cuba stand. It continues to this day.

And they have been left out of every submarine cable project in the Caribbean. And if you were to pull up allen's submarine cable map dot com, you can see, you know, there's a big hole in all the the wiring where Cuba and Cuba's big, a big island in the Caribbean. And so they were stuck on geostationary satellite, which is, you know, high latency, low capacity, expensive in comparison to a submarine cable link. And, so it's, it's bad on every, front.

And so, in order to get connected, then the Venezuelan government, Susiva Shavez at the time, so they put up the money, because nobody else would want to touch it. You don't want to cross paths with the embargo, and so they built a cable from, Cuba to, both Jamaica and to Venezuela and that was the other one cable. Now that was built and supposedly finished in two thousand eleven, but there was no evidence that it had been used or made any difference for a couple of years. And that was around the time that I was trying to get smart on submarine cables, and internet measurement, and I just came into this, blogs of people speculating like, well, maybe it's only being used in this way or this, maybe maybe maybe it never was built and everybody just stole the money or something. There's all these theories going around and, and Q was a bit of a fascination.

There's definitely an audience, within the United States. It's very fascinated with these, keeping related issues. And, and so then I got into it and I was like, alright, well, you know, I will set something up and our, my reticent stuff to alert me when we see a new connection to Cuba and like it was like two years later or eighteen months later, I've got an email that was an automated thing that I had set up, showing this new connection. And, sure enough that ended up being the, the activation of this cable.

But, anyway, so then fast forward to recently, so this cable has been really the one. There's, there's a couple to the Guantanamo Bay, but for the, for the people of Cuba, there's just the one cable that they've been relying on.

Arcos is another, pan, Caribbean, cable that lands on a number of countries, including the United States, they had applied, to get permission to build a little spur over to, Cuba, and then, December, the Department of Justice national security team so that the risks were too high. This should be rejected. Now in that, I kinda got into this in the blog into their part of their rash now was, some things that I also I know a thing or two about, one is like this would enable them to do b g b hijacks against the United States. If there was a cable that connected both the QA and the United States, I was like, well, the two things have nothing to do with each other.

You can teach it to be hijacked without having a direct submarine cable.

So and even their citing stuff that was they were indirectly citing, stuff I had written in their rationale And, they're alright. Well, I feel like I know a thing or two about this and that, you know, you can do whatever you want.

If there's a political, you know, there is always political calculations Absolutely.


Those folks are gonna make their decisions and that's that's their thing. But let's not let's let's let's not, make this that this is a there's a technical rationale because I don't I don't buy that and I do know something about it. But anyway, that was my that was my soapbox on, the Cuba.

Scenario that brought up last last month, but, I know there's no, there's not a lot of incentive. You know, Cuba is an adversary in the United States, is a third hearing government. There's a lot of bad stuff going on that country. So it is tricky to engage with, in the same way that we're trying to figure out how to engage with Iran.

And what, you know, we we wanna support the people. We wanna support internet connectivity and an open internet.

But at the same time, you know, you've got an authoritarian regime that may benefit from that you have to weigh those costs and then that's where, you know, politicians will make decisions, but, anyway, it's a it's a tricky, tricky area.

I wanted to go, but been more into the the China issue because, you know, as I said, one of the issues with, you know, denying direct cables between China and the US, it doesn't stop your data from from flowing to countries.

But one, you know, indirect side effect can be that it it does decrease the role of Hong Kong perhaps or China as being a hub within Asia for other countries seeking to connect to China to get access to the rest of the world. So What we've been seeing, you know, since those cables have been blocked is everybody's clamoring for what's gonna be the next big hub in Asia? Is it the Philippines? Is it gonna be, you know, in Indonesia, Thailand, whatever, because you have Japan up north and Singapore down south is the two key hubs in Asia right now.

We're seeing several new cables that are being built from Singapore directly to to the United States as well right now. So you have these these two big spans that Northern Transpack Japan to the US. And South, you're gonna have Singapore to the US. And so that leaves the question is how is China gonna connect?

Well, they're gonna have their own cables that go that emanate out of Hong Kong to their countries within the the region. But to by denying these direct cables, it does make other countries want to use more Singapore and Japan as their main points, their hubs to connect the rest of the world. We're also seeing within Asia, at least there's, at least one be more planned cables that are intra Asian cables that traditionally would go from Japan to Singapore you know, and land in Hong Kong, other spots, through through the, South China Sea. There's a new cable plan called APricot that can be landed, gonna be planned to enter service next year that goes East of the Philippines, so it is a Japan Singapore East of Philippines, hitting a few more spots, Guam, among them, which which seeks to avoid going through the South China Sea and any waters that would be part of, you know, the nine dash line.

There's been so many delays with cables that yeah. There's so many delays with cables that are going in that part of the world there's, there's this new cable that Southeast Ace Japan Cable II was, it was announced in twenty eighteen to be built by any NEC, by a consortium of of of of of of parties including Chinese carriers, between Japan and Singapore going to Hong Kong as well, it still hasn't entered service yet. It's been five years. It's mainly laid except for the part that goes through Chinese waters, waiting permits to and we hear that it could be ready for service next year.

But we heard that two years ago that would be the next year it'd be in service. And it's the next year it's gonna be in service. So there's been so many delays. It's, it's, you know, I think people have tried to rethink their network strategy of, where they want to risk putting cables, to do things that are going to have a higher likelihood of happening as soon as possible.

Alright. You you you can't afford it. It's merely these these risks because the the delays to new cable construction, it it can really set you back in terms of I mean, it's expensive having the delays for, for one, but also if your strategy is to have this new capacity online to meet your demand and it's not there when you need it, Can be really bad for your your your network planning.

Has there been anything that has changed in the undersea cable technology or landscape with regard to the proliferation of cloud technology, public cloud technology, and how data is moving around the world differently than it used to, especially in large quantities?

I think I would go back to what I said earlier about the the the the the shifting ownership all these cables and having the the companies that are the made cloud companies, owning the cables and having a direct direct stake in them, not just, as, you know, owning capacity, them, they they want to increasingly have a role in where the cables go. And and and how they are designed. And and they're also helping to push the envelope in terms of the the capacity of the cables. Because for them, cables are a cost.

Alright. They don't earn enough cables to cost for them. So their entire goal is to let's lower the cost per terabyte as much as possible. You know.

So that's been a big a big change in, you know, having just the the cloud growth, you know, does help to fuel this these kind of hidden parts of the network, the subsea cables that are, you know, how the cloud regions linked together, it's via the cables.

Alan, one, interesting, dynamic.

It's interesting to hear all discussion about the demand, and that's really cool. I mean, at one point, and that this this is dating myself at maybe twenty fourteen or something.

There was a you guys were tracking don't know. Maybe a bit of a low, in the the, you know, up into the right graph of summary cable demand. And part of the rationale was at there was a time when domestic connectivity in a lot of countries was not what it is today. And so you'd have this crazy hairpinning, like the Middle East a good example. Asia was also another one, where two providers, two two service providers in one country would exchange their traffic in London or something really far away. And so they were kind of artificially pushing up the demand on, submarine cables. And as that got resolved, as there was more domestic connectivity and these guys were changing exchange of traffic in the country.

There was then there was like a something that would just maybe take the foot off the pedal. Maybe just slightly.

And then there's also, like, some of the OTT services being able to, you know, the all the innovation around caching, where stuff isn't just going off. It isn't always a international connection to service, say Netflix or something.

You've got local caches serving things up. It becomes a far more efficient system, of how do you deliver traffic that too seemed like there was a couple of factors there, but it sounds like that was just a a little hesitation and then it just went right back into unbounded growth.

I think I kinda what what you're what you're getting at also. I mean, what you said is is absolutely true. I think one thing that we did seed our data was, so we gather data each year from the major internet network operators about their international network capacity they have between various cities. And I think we we first saw some really slow growth in the Atlantic, and I forget the year, maybe it was twenty twelve, thirteen, around, or, fourteen, around there.

And it was kind of strange because it had been, you know, a pretty solid clip for many years. And what was happening was at that point in time, it was a content providers who started to stop using, or or having the the internet that Apple providers carry some of their traffic and they try to deploy their own private networks. Across the Atlantic. So this was first done by them, you know, acquiring wavelengths capacity across, you know, different cables, then it came to them acquiring entire fiber pairs on older cables, and then it came with to them, you know, investing in cables in, in, in new cables.

And so we started to see this, this big shift happening. And you've seen it in other markets around the world where we've seen this, this kind of lull sometimes in the Bible operators, you know, their their their their traffic or their or their capacity they deployed. It hasn't grown for a few years. We're like, what's going on?

They're like, well, The content guys moved in. They they put all their stuff locally, and now they have their own transport going back to their data center in Europe. So we don't need to have as much ourselves.

And that's that's still happens because, you know, the the the the, cloud providers, they, you know, they haven't deployed their their their backbone everywhere in the world yet. But whenever they, they, they they do, there is this kind of a transition period where you, you see some, some shifting from the, the demand from the, the, you know, the major carrier networks onto the, the content power networks for the the long haul portion.

But your point is that that traffic is always there. It just Yes. Your collection methodology may not sure it.

Well, we do track the content growth as well. So, we are, so in our overall demand data is definitely showing all categories of demand. But your your your your your point was, I think, a good one about there was some things that were international that didn't need to be, right, that were things were hair, hair pinning in London. Yeah.

And and I think that's that's being resolved, right? As you see more local internet exchanges globally, and people agree to create a peer. But there are some parts of the world where carriers don't wanna be with each other because they don't get along. And so they there is data exchange, you know, maybe in a third third country.

Yeah. It's a there's a there's actually a rational argument of why there's a rational argument of why that takes place, like you said, like even a a powerful incumbent doesn't wanna appear domestically with its uh-uh private competitors. And if they have to send their traffic out of the country, to bad for them because that's a that that hurts them or that hurts the incumbent. And then you end up with this weird, you know, when we look at trace routes in the Middle East. We'll see like two, you know, Saudi providers exchanging traffic in London or New York City.

Yeah. Middle East is a good but I mean, Mexico is too, you know, that's our neighbor, and that's another scenario where you have a very dominant incumbent, that, exchanged a lot of their traffic in Texas and Los Angeles.

A lot of it ends up having come back into the US to go back to Mexico.

So is there any built in logic, any intelligence in the undersea cable infrastructure? I mean, I'm I'm just thinking in terms of how one cable may touch many different regions or many different countries, and you might want to be strategic in where data can go, for example.

There's not a lot of logic in the submarine cable, itself. I I know I've I remember one point seeing people propose like, oh, you know, that what if the submarine cable itself was routing? Travis was like, I don't sure that that's gonna work.

So, another, like, miss or miss, I don't know, misconception when, is, is that, like, the when you see a summary cable, like, you pick one off submarine cable map dot com, and you see it land in these eleven countries, that, or whatever it is.

The, like, one interpretation is it's like a bus. Yes. Yes. Like, everybody's got access to everything.

That kind of thing.

And then there's there's like, I I feel like if you there's a, you know, I don't know. You you can only show so much on that, you know, graphic, but, in reality, like, you've got pairs that are going between different cable landing stations that aren't necessarily traversing the entire cable. So when there was a break or something breaks, you it's not obvious sometimes where the impacts are gonna show up.

But I mean, I've only just learned this just from trying to understand thing, like, from a data standpoint.

Yeah. So I I think what you're saying is there's actually there's actually there's there's there's two points here to make. One is is you're you're right. The, the fiber pair mapping of a cable can really vary.

There can be express fibers that, you know, don't hit every spot in the cable that you see. This happens a lot with cables, like on the coast of Africa or, you know, cables between Europe and Asia. So, you know, some fibers just drop in certain places, and the capacity of those branches I have a totally different capacity than the major trunk of the cable. So it's very imbalanced in some ways.

But I think your point's a good one I think we're getting at also is that just because a cable might hit, let's say, every country, it's how the the operators choose to deploy their their backbones And maybe their IP routers are just, let's say, in Dakar and London, they're not in every spot along the way. Right? So they can't directly access Nigeria from the the car, they have to go to London first, to then send data to, you know, Delaco. So that's the other issue.

Or yeah, I guess I guess that's maybe that's the better example of, like, if you take, like, the one of the one of the seemingly seemingly cables, you're gonna have, like, a landing in, Mumbay and Karachi, which are like adjacent, you know, on a on a submarine cable map. But you can't just go onto the cable and then, and then go to the next, just like you would on a subway, just, get off at the next stop, you you may have to go all the way to the end and come all the way back, to go to the next.

Yeah. The first question, like, is it possible to go to go direct? And if it is, you have to then have a carrier who will play that link and make it or make it actually in our service.

That's right. Is it physically possible, layer one? And then there's a layer three or something, another layer that also has to make it happen. So for anybody who's followed internet connectivity in the country of Vietnam over the past decade, you you know that they have a lot of submarine cable issues.

In fact, like, when every time I see a headline that, you know, Vietnam's internet is crippled due to some submarine cable, outage I have to check the date to make sure this is the new one or this is the last one or the one before that.

It's multiple times a year. What is, what's the, why is it, that, was there just some poor mapping, planning of cables? What's the explanation for the the woes of inter, Vietnam's international connectivity?

I think I think the heavy reason for that is the cables that go into Vietnam are in, are in waters that are very shallow and are heavily fished, and there are lots of, you know, anchor issues as well.

You know, Vietnam does get the majority of its connectivity from international submarine cables. They do have terrestrial fiber as well, which does meet some of the requirements, but But recently, you're writing four of the five cables were out for at for some length of time.

And, you know, they do have new cables planned. And one of those cables I mentioned earlier is that SJC cable has been delayed for five years now or whatever. So they should have some new connectivity in the next couple of years with some new higher capacity cable, which will certainly help to augment what they currently have.

Hopefully, they're gonna be more reliable, though.

Okay. I don't know if it's if it's just if it's shallow waters, anchors and fishing, then would would the could the new cable be more resilient to that?

I mean, I would I would I would have to, you know, I'm I'm not aware of the exact routing of the cable, the burial depth of the cable, the armoring type on the cable. But, you know, all these, all these, all these measures are routinely used to help, you know, guard cables. You know, you have more armory on the cables that are in the shallow waters. You bury it where you can, two to even three meters deep so that, anchors can't really touch them hopefully.

I would imagine this is probably foremost on the minds of the people installing whatever is the next cable that they need to get, These are, dangerous waters for submarine cables.

Yeah. For sure. And I think one of one of the best things to to to help to improve the quality of the internet is just to have more more cables, safety in numbers. That is a strategy that that seems to work in many parts of the world.

Alan, I think I'm going to stop us here. We are at time, but I do want to say thank you very much for joining and talking about your experience and knowledge and undersea cables with us today very, very interesting. As someone who has been a traditional network engineer for many years, my perspective is is just much more local. So it's It's very interesting to hear from you what goes on when I configure routing at the local level and then send traffic across the entire world to this information somewhere else. Really, really interesting to hear.

Now for our audience, I will put a link to the telegeography website and to submarine cable map. It's thoroughly interesting to look at pinch and zoom and kinda check out what's going on there. Now, Alan, if folks have any questions for you, would like to learn more or have a comment. How can they reach out to you?

For me, personally, the best way would be via LinkedIn.

But also I would suggest, going to our our blog, which is blog dot telegraphy dot com.

We we have a wide variety of things we post there with the latest, presentations or thoughts we have on different things happening in the industry.

Excellent. Thanks. And, Doug, how about you?

Let's see. I'm on Twitter at Dougadori.

I'm also on mastodon now at Dougador again and then LinkedIn is another good way to reach out to me.

Great. Thanks, Doug. And, you can find me on Twitter, network underscore fill, still very active there, and you can search my name, Philip Jivasse on LinkedIn. You can also follow telemetry now on Twitter and LinkedIn as well.

Now if you have an idea for a show or you'd like to be a guest, we'd love to hear from you. Email us at telemetry now kentech dot com. So until next time, thanks for listening. Bye bye.

About Telemetry Now

Do you dread forgetting to use the “add” command on a trunk port? Do you grit your teeth when the coffee maker isn't working, and everyone says, “It’s the network’s fault?” Do you like to blame DNS for everything because you know deep down, in the bottom of your heart, it probably is DNS? Well, you're in the right place! Telemetry Now is the podcast for you! Tune in and let the packets wash over you as host Phil Gervasi and his expert guests talk networking, network engineering and related careers, emerging technologies, and more.
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