When we spoke last year, you mentioned Machine Learning, AI, and Spatial Division Multiplexing as key areas to watch for 2019. Are these still at the forefront of the industry’s focus in 2020?
Yes. Most new submarine cables and capacity upgrades to existing submarine cables are driven by Internet Content Provider (ICP) Data Center Interconnection (DCI) applications, such as AI and Machine Learning. These applications, borne in data centers, are now being used on DCI networks themselves, overland and undersea. AI and Machine Learning allow network operators to better optimize their network assets for reduced overall operating costs, enable new and differentiated services, improve overall network availability for competitive advantage, and even perform preventive maintenance by addressing future issues before an outage occurs. However, legacy “compensated”—and even newer “uncompensated”—cables simply cannot address voracious ICP bandwidth growth into the future. As such, Spatial Division Multiplexing (SDM) submarine cables are expected to address their surging annual bandwidth demands by enabling unprecedented total information-carrying capabilities of future submarine cable networks.
What other new trends are emerging in the market?
Streaming telemetry allows the network itself to express its ongoing state and overall health by constantly providing performance metrics to Machine Learning and AI applications. Telemetry capabilities require highly instrumented networks that are increasingly being deployed around the world. Access to this streaming telemetry data is greatly facilitated via open, standards-based Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). By combining highly instrumented network infrastructure, analytics and intelligence, and software control and automation, operators will soon be able to implement closed-loop automation, overland and undersea, for a network that is highly adaptable to change.
How are Open Cable and Open Submarine Networks helping to transform the industry at the moment?
Open Cables disaggregate wet plant vendors from Submarine Line Termination Equipment (SLTE) vendors allowing cable operators to build best-in-breed submarine cables. The submarine networking industry has been quasi-open for years now, as cable operators have long been using third party SLTE, but it wasn’t an easy task given two vendors. Industry groups now exist to compare, test, and accept third party SLTE in a standards-based manner, which will greatly facilitate the Open Cable model. Open Networks take Open Cables to the next level by allowing operators to build best-breed networks at the software and management layers, facilitated through open, standards-based APIs.
Where are you seeing the strongest growth in demand for capacity, how is this shaping the industry, and who is generating this demand?
The strongest growth in bandwidth demand comes from ICPs and their submarine DCI-centric applications, with no signs of abating. DCI applications, such as database synchronization, database backup and restore, dynamic load balancing, cache optimization, and other internal applications drive most demand experienced along most of the submarine network corridors around the world. A handful of ICP companies, which don’t generate revenues directly from network connectivity as is the case for wholesale operators, means they see the network differently from both business and technology perspectives. They’re also not saddled with decades of legacy networks or associated business and operational models allowing them to implement the latest network technology at an unprecedented pace. This enables them to address voracious bandwidth demands by compelling vendors into faster innovation cycles that’s beneficial for the whole networking industry—vendors, operators, and end-users, both humans and machines.
How is the dynamic for investment into the subsea industry changing? Are any new key players emerging?
As previously stated, most new submarine cables, and capacity upgrades to existing cables, are associated with ICPs and this looks to continue well into the future. ICPs have been and continue to deploy many new submarine cables around the world and are also seen as pioneers in new SDM cable designs by being the first to deploy them. Although somewhat overshadowed by the amount of ICP bandwidth being turned up, traditional wholesale operators are also experiencing bandwidth growth associated with the customers they serve, some of which are ICPs.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Submarine Networks EMEA event? Why are events like this important to you?
I’m personally looking forward to the dynamic interaction with customers, technology partners, and competitors, to get a holistic overview of the current state of the submarine networking industry and more importantly, where we’re headed into the future. Events such as Submarine Networks EMEA bring leaders and key stakeholders into a common location that greatly facilitates these discussions and learning opportunities.