Nextgen switches on North West subsea cable system

The 2,100km subsea cable connecting WA and NT via offshore oil and gas facilities, which is due to be acquired by Vocus later this year, has been activated by Nextgen Group.

Nextgen Group and Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks have announced activating the $139 million North West Cable System (NWCS), a 2,100km fibre-optic submarine cable between Darwin and Port Headland.

The subsea cable has been integrated into Nextgen's 17,000km land-based transmission network and Metronode's datacentres across Australia, also connecting to offshore facilities owned by oil and gas providers Shell and INPEX, both of which were equal partners with Nextgen in building out the cable.

"High-speed connectivity has now emerged as a vital component to operate any business regardless of geographical location, be it 200km offshore or in remote and regional Australia," Nextgen Group CEO David Yuile said.

"The completion of the NWCS is a significant milestone for the Nextgen Group, and will deliver a digital dividend to Australia's resources sector and to regional communities in Australia's North West."

Shell and INPEX also hailed the cable as a "monopoly breaker", as the north-western region previously only had access to a single telecommunications carrier.

"Not only will it make life better for our people and streamline our communications, but this is infrastructure that will provide real benefits in high-quality communications to Northern Australia," Shell Australia Prelude VP David Bird said.

"Harnessing the economic potential of Australia's north is a key challenge for the Australian economy, and infrastructure investments like this optical fibre will assist the nation to foster new industries in remote locations."

Nextgen said it has installed additional capability within the subsea cable that will provide greater resilience for telecommunications services in the Northern Territory, with the cable also able to be extended in future to the Pilbara region and to other offshore locations including the Tiwi Islands.

"We are pleased to have supported the Nextgen Group with ASN's innovative technology to offer higher bandwidth availability, greater reliability, and lower latency, which are of critical importance to enhance the efficiency of operations on and off-shore," Philippe Piron, president of Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks -- now owned by Nokia -- said.

The NWCS was built for the purpose of servicing the mining and offshore oil and gas industries in Western Australia, and is currently under consideration for acquisition by Vocus Communications for AU$134 million.

"The acquisition of Nextgen Networks, one of Australia's largest national fibre backhaul networks, provides Vocus with the missing piece in our existing infrastructure network," Vocus CEO Geoff Horth said in June.

"In addition, the acquisition of NWCS provides significant near-term upside to expand Vocus' owned network offering."

The NWCS acquisition, if approved, will occur alongside Vocus' purchase of Nextgen Networks for AU$700 million and the Australia Singapore Cable (ASC) subsea cable project for AU$27 million.

Originally a AU$170 million 50-50 joint-venture deal between Vocus and Nextgen Networks, the ASC project involves constructing a 100Gbps 4,600km subsea cable connecting Perth to Singapore and Indonesia. It is one of three subsea cables currently being built to connect those areas, alongside the Trident Subsea Cable and SubPartners' APX-West cable.

Trident Subsea Cable in July 2013 signed a AU$320 million commitment to construct a AU$400 million Perth-to-Singapore subsea cable, while SubPartners' APX-West cable is also on track; in March it was announced Telstra, SubPartners, and Singtel had entered a memorandum of understanding to construct the 4,500km 20Tbps Perth to Singapore subsea cable.

Nextgen's ASC cable is said to be furthest along of the three cables, however, according to Vocus executive director James Spenceley.

"I think if you look at where all three projects are, I think the [ASC] project seems to be most developed: We have a marine survey done, we have permitting, we have a partner in Indonesia, we have connective permitting, we've actually built some of the landing in Singapore, we got the last landing slot in Singapore that's cost effective to develop -- that project is very far down the path," Spenceley said in June.

All three cables are aimed at replacing the slower-speed SEA-ME-WE 3 (SMW3) cable, which currently carries data traffic between Australia and Singapore.

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