Google and Optus team up on cable project

The search giant has joined a consortium building a $300m high-bandwidth submarine cable system between the US and Japan

Google has joined Optus and four other carriers to build a new high-bandwidth submarine cable system between the US and Japan, in a move to address its broadband capacity needs.

The cable system, called Unity, will cost $300m (£150m) and will span 10,000km, linking Chikura, Japan directly to Los Angeles. The consortium, consisting of Optus's parent company SingTel, Bharti Airtel, Global Transit, Google, KDDI Corporation and Pacnet, has selected NEC and Tyco Telecommunications to construct and install the system which is expected to be ready in the first quarter of 2010.

Unity is expected to initially be a five fibre pair cable system, with each pair capable of carrying up to 960Gbps, which will increase trans-Pacific lit cable capacity by about 20 percent, according to Google.

The system can be expanded up to eight fibre pairs, achieving 7.68Tbps throughput, which Singtel says is equivalent to over seven million users accessing a 1Mb file at the same time. By having a high fibre count, Google says the cable system can offer more capacity at a lower unit cost.

The cable system will "provide much needed capacity to sustain the unprecedented growth in data and internet traffic between Asia and the US", Google said, quoting figures from the 2007 TeleGeography Global Bandwidth Report, showing a 63.7 percent compound annual growth in trans-Pacific bandwidth demand between 2002 and 2007 which is expected to continue to grow strongly from 2008 to 2013, with total demand for capacity doubling roughly every two years.

Unity will supplement the bandwidth to the existing eight major cable systems linking the region to the West. In 2006, an earthquake in Taiwan damaged six of those, crippling internet connections from Asia to Europe and the US.

Mark Chong, SingTel EVP for networks, said in a statement the system will also act as an "important cable diversity route" feeding traffic to other parts of the region to which it is connected. In 2004 SingTel built the Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4) cable system with 15 other carriers.

Google's motivation for joining the consortium is to ensure the broadband capacity for its business needs, a Google spokesperson said.

"Google's participation in building the Unity cable system allows us to achieve greater capacity as more applications and services migrate online. This ultimately helps provide our users with faster and more reliable connectivity. Our goal includes not only support for continuing to serve high bandwidth services such as YouTube and Google Earth into Asia, but also for information replication between our data centres around the globe," the spokesperson said.

"Google needs enough capacity so that their search will be satisfying in the right way," Gartner research vice president Martin Gutberlet told ZDNet.com.au, adding that without network capacity, search results will be returned slowly, driving away users and advertisers.

Gutberlet does not see Google entering the sea-cable business — a sentiment echoed in a blog by Google's manager of network acquisitions, Francois Sterin: "If you're wondering whether we're going into the undersea cable business, the answer is no."

Google's cable ownership is unlikely to push other companies to enter the business according to TeleGeography research director Alan Mauldin. "While Google is the first non-telecom company to take an active role in ownership of a submarine cable, it's not likely that this is the beginning of a new trend," he said in a statement.

New trans-Pacific cable projects such as Unity will double potential capacity available, according to TeleGeography. Although the research company expects trans-Pacific bandwidth demand will be sufficient to avert the same sort of price collapse that occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, due to a trans-Atlantic construction boom, it believes the market needs to be watched.

Gartner's Gutberlet does not consider this to be a concern as yet. "There are a few people considering building up capacity between the US and Asia, but they haven't decided yet," he said.

ZDNet Asia's Victoria Ho contributed to this report.

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