2019 has and will continue to be a very busy year in the submarine network industry, with several new cables announced, deployed, and already put into the Ready for Service (RFS) state. Why does the industry need so many new submarine cables? To maintain pace with our ever-growing affinity and utter addiction to Internet-based content, which continues to drive the 40% CAGR in intercontinental bandwidth demand, according to industry analysts at TeleGeography, along the submerged information superhighways that interconnect continental landmasses. 

As submarine networks are rightfully considered critical infrastructure, deploying new and modern cables will improve the overall reliability of the global network that erases distance and borders to close the digital divide. 

When new submarine cable performance milestones are achieved in trials, they’re actively promoted through blogs, press releases, tweets, and webinars to celebrate, and why not? These new submerged wet plant and modem technology advancements are truly astonishing and deserve this fanfare – but the context of these achievements must be fully understood to determine what’s actually deployable for live customer traffic in the real-world.

Hero field trials

A “hero field trial” typically uses best-case conditions that are not applicable in the real-world for production traffic, such as using Start-of-Life (SOL) performance margins and not End-of-Life (EOL) performance margins. A “hero trial announcement” can be identified by terms like “evaluation board”, “experimental”, “forward-looking”, “proof of concept”, “demonstration”, “industry first”, and other similar rather vague terms. 

A hero trial focuses on demonstrating new capabilities of a technology and/or product albeit without consideration of commercial requirements or conditions. That said, it’s a critical step in the evolution of any new technology.

Real-world field trial

In contrast to a hero field trial, a “real-world field trial” focuses on demonstrating new capabilities of a technology and/or product albeit with consideration of commercial requirements and conditions. This means that the offering can reliably carry customer traffic and maintain the agreed to Service Level Agreements (SLA) in the long-term.

Dissecting the announcement

To properly dissect a trial announcement with the important goal of distinguishing between a hero trial and a real-world trial, the following questions should be asked and succinctly answered. By understanding and corroborating the responses to the questions below, one can better “read between the lines” and separate “fact from fiction”. 

  • Was a Generally Available (GA) product (hardware and software) used?
  • Were practical, real-world commercial performance margins taken into account?
  • Was the trial conducted on a real submarine cable or in a sterile lab environment?
  • Was online or offline processing used?
  • Was perfect Forward Error Correction (FEC) assumed?
  • Was Spectral Efficiency (SE) calculated with or without overhead?
  • How many channels were present on the fiber pair?
  • What part of the available optical spectrum was used? 

The answers to the questions above help to distinguish between a “hero” trial and “real-world” trial, which is critical given the latter is what can be reliably deployed in the field and dictates how much capacity will be available. It’s the corroboration of answers to the above-mentioned questions that one needs to fully understand a trial announcement. It should be noted that hero field trials are critical evolutionary steps towards real-world field trials, where the latter actually determines what submarine cable operators will be able to monetize across their submerged assets.

Want to know more?

Watch our recent webinar where I was joined by Tim Stronge, Vice President of Research at TeleGeography. We discussed the latest submarine cable announcements from around the world, why they’re being deployed where, and what business needs they address. We also dove deeper into dissecting trial announcements so you can read between the lines, know what questions to ask, and know what answers to expect to help separate hype from reality

Remember, there is a difference, and often a significant one, between the touted performance of a hero field trial and a real-world field trial, so being able to read between the lines will ensure a proper, thorough understanding.