Sunday, 25 July 2021

China tensions sink another submarine cable

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Monday 21 June 21

The East Micronesia Cable System, set to improve communications in the island nations of Nauru, Kiribati, and the Federated States of Micronesia, has been stalled due to concerns over Huawei’s involvement

The story of the East Micronesia Cable System (EMC) goes back to around 2018, when the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank first agreed to co-finance a submarine network linking the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, and Nauru to a transpacific cable system connecting Australia and Hawaii. The cable was planned to help connect the Micronesian subregion to the rest of the world…

The story of the East Micronesia Cable System (EMC) goes back to around 2018, when the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank first agreed to co-finance a submarine network linking the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, and Nauru to a transpacific cable system connecting Australia and Hawaii.

The cable was planned to help connect the Micronesian subregion to the rest of the world, providing faster and more stable internet to around 75,000 people that currently rely on satellite broadband. 

By 2020, bids for the $72.6 million EMC contract were being made, with Huawei, Alcatel Submarine Networks (part of Finland’s Nokia), and Japan’s NEC all submitting proposals. According to sources, Huawei Marine’s bid in the procurement process was more than 20% below that of their rivals.

However, it was around this time that fears over cybersecurity surrounding Huawei and China were at their height, with the US campaigning globally to see Chinese technology removed from national 5G networks and other key communication technologies. In July, the US sent a diplomatic note to the FSM, expressing strategic concerns about the EMC project due to Huawei Marine’s perceived obligations to work with Chinese intelligence and security agencies.

These concerns over security are even more pressing due to the EMC’s planned connection to the HANTRU-1 submarine cable, which lands at Guam, a key location for the US in the Pacific, housing military assets. 

Now, it seems that these concerns over security have won out against cost-effective construction, with the procurement process itself being shelved. 

“All three bids were considered non-compliant because there was no specific way to remove Huawei as one of the bidders,” a source told Reuters.

Exactly what this means for the EMC’s future remains to be seen, but for now there is little indication of plans to retender the contract. 

This is not the first time that tensions over cybersecurity between China and the US have scuppered submarine cable plans. Back in 2020, Facebook and Google agreed to leave portions of their Pacific Light Cable Network linking the US to Hong Kong dormant after pressure from the US government suggested that a connection to China-dominated Hong Kong was unsecure. Earlier this year, Facebook cancelled its plans to build a transpacific Hong Kong Americas cable over similar concerns. 

 

How is the politicisation of the telecoms industry affecting the submarine cable sector? Find out from the experts at this year’s live Submarine Networks EMEA conference 

Also in the news:
Nokia selected for 5G RAN by Denmark’s TTN joint venture
Microsoft planning four Chinese data centres
Nokia brings liquid cooling tech to KDDI

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