Last year, I blogged about what I believed would be the hot topics of discussion in the submarine networking industry throughout 2020, so I thought I’d do the same this year. Many of the topics discussed below have and will be impacted by what we already experienced in 2020 – the year of a global pandemic – and what we’ll experience in 2021, as the world continues to combat its socioeconomic impact. 

These technologies will surely incur lots of time, money, resources, and attention this year, but given the global pandemic is still a major challenge in many parts of the world, how we deploy, use, manage, and maintain critical network infrastructure – overland and undersea – has taken on a new and different level of importance. 

Capacity growth & the global pandemic impact

According to respected industry analyst, TeleGeography, the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for traffic between all intercontinental submarine corridors is roughly 40%, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The global pandemic, coupled with stay-at-home mandates, resulted in people learning, working, and playing from home that made us even more reliable on the global network infrastructure.

In a recent joint “The State of the Global Submarine Network” webinar, the implied impact of the pandemic resulted in an implied +15% peak traffic increase on global submarine network peak traffic usage. When the pandemic subsides, what will the residual impact be on the global network? Will things go back to normal? Will there be a new normal? Only time will tell, but what is certain, is that the global network is truly critical infrastructure, and although it did bend in some regions around the world, it did not break.

Implied impact of the pandemic resulted in an implied +15% peak traffic increase on global submarine network peak traffic usage.

Operating networks in a pandemic world

The global pandemic resulted in social distancing becoming the norm, which greatly hindered our ability to work with other people onsite and travel to remote locations and perform various tasks. This new reality impacts an operator’s ability to send people into the field (and seas) to lay new submarine cables, install new SLTE modems, and perform ongoing maintenance and repair activities. This is where intelligent data-driven automation and remote provisioning demonstrates its many inherent benefits.

Data-driven analytics, enabled by streaming telemetry from highly instrumented and commercially available programmable coherent modems, such as the over 5,000 WaveLogic 5 modems already shipped for use in submarine and terrestrial networks around the world, provide actionable and timely insights. These insights may point to congested network imbalance, impending equipment failure, or under-utilized link capacity. Automation and software control can address insights autonomously, semi-autonomously, or manually where someone decides whether to initiate a change by hitting the “Are you sure?” OK button.

Over 5,000 WaveLogic 5 modems already shipped for use in submarine and terrestrial networks around the world

The ability for operators to remotely monitor, provision, and optimize global network capacity, overland and undersea, took on a new level of importance in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021. Highly instrumented and programmable coherent modems coupled with streaming data-driven analytics provide for intelligent and timely software-based automation and control. This helps network operators maintain their assets while respecting social distancing guidelines, wherever and whenever possible. The recent “New Tide of Technologies Tested on Facebook’s MAREA Cable” Q&A blog, with Facebook’s Steve Grubb, discusses the importance of intelligent data-driven automation and the associated benefits to their customers.

Open Submarine Cables

The business model of using SLTE from one vendor on the submarine wet plant of a different vendor isn’t new, as this has often been the case since coherent optical modems were introduced over a decade ago. In fact, Ciena shipped its 1000th SLTE last year, and we don’t even offer wet plants. However, this was performed in a quasi-open environment because there was no industry standard available to facilitate this business model.

Ciena shipped its 1000th SLTE last year

This changes with the introduction of the new ITU G.977.1 “Transverse Compatible DWDM Applications for Repeatered Optical Fibre Submarine Cable Systems” standard, as discussed in the recent “Standardizing Open Submarine Cables” blog with optical network expert, Priyanth Mehta. You can learn more about its implications to the submarine network industry by listening to Priyanth’s “Understanding the New Standardized Recommendations on Open Submarine Cable Acceptance” presentation.

You can also freely download the Open Submarine Cables Handbook, which covers what you need to know about the open cables from a technology-centric perspective.

Pacific Telecommunications Council (PTC)

The annual PTC event is being held (virtually) next week, from the 17th to the 20th, with this year’s theme being “New Realities”, which I personally think is perfect given where we are today in the new world.