Melting icecaps could enable undersea Arctic telecom route

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

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 percent of used subsea capacity carries Internet traffic, with a miniscule commitment to switched voice of just 0.2 percent. 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 emphasieed 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 US 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.

Satellite communication was used in Japan's natural disaster

International capacity is critical as environmental disruption continues. In March, Japan suffered the triple blow of record earthquakes, off-the-charts tsunami tidal waves and nuclear meltdown. Yasuo Sato and other officials of the PTC-Japan Chapter reported that these caused the third-highest casualty rate from a natural disaster in Japan, with nearly 16,000 dead, and more 9,000 injured or missing. More than 127,000 buildings were completely destroyed, and another 232,000 were half-destroyed. Millions of households were without electricity and water supply.

Besides the human and facility costs, communication challenges were unprecedented. More than 6,000 cellular base stations were taken offline from power failures. When diesel backups ran out of fuel and battery backups were exhausted, Japanese companies found it impossible to bring fuel trucks into the area to refill generators. Roads were impassible, and in the nuclear contamination areas, workers and managers were not allowed to enter.

Satellite telecommunication was quickly stepped up to cover the affected areas. VSAT applications flourished in the circumstances, with temporary base stations set up across the damaged country. Sky Perfect JSAT Corporation also distributed hundreds of satellite phones to public safety organizations until terrestrial wireless capability was restored.

According to the government research agency's manager Osamu Takizawa, Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) is pursuing programs that would allow wireless ad hoc networks for phone to phone connection without base stations. These ad hoc networks could allow disaster survivors to reconstitute a network fabric despite base station failures and lack of electric grids for a short, critical period in the immediate aftermath of crises.

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