Vocus kicks off subsea cable laying for ASC

Two cable-laying ships have set off to begin deploying the Australian Singapore Cable, with Vocus saying the more difficult route should be complete within 100 days.

Vocus has announced that cable laying has begun on the Australia-Singapore Cable (ASC) project, with the larger portion of the subsea cable system expected to be laid by April 20.

The ASC, worth $170 million, will see around 3,000km of cable laid by the Ile de Batz ship between Christmas Island and Fremantle through deep water, while the Ile de Ré lays around 1,600km of cable between Singapore and Christmas Island in shallow water.

"We could have done the entire lay with one vessel, but we decided to use two. Not only does this speed up things up, but the conditions for each of the two stages are quite different," Vocus head of Network Product, Pricing, and Carrier Luke Mackinnon said.

The Ile de Batz ship will lay between 600 metres and 10km of cable per hour 24 hours a day during its journey, Mackinnon said, as laying cable in deep water is faster despite needing to change the type of cable and adding protection for when it comes across underwater chasms.

However, the Ile de Ré could take around 100 days to complete its route, as it is more "challenging" and requires a 40-tonne plough to bury the cable to protect it from existing subsea cables, fishing vessels, anchors, and environmental elements.

"The sea is shallower and it is also highly tidal," Mackinnon explained.

"That could be a problem, because cables can move in tidal waters. Over time, they can rub against rocks and suffer from cuts. The other issue is there are many other cables and pipelines in the area. Each time the ship encounters one of these, the cable has to be brought up from the bottom of the sea."

Vocus last month said the ASC remains set to go live in the first quarter of FY19 following the execution of five sales agreements, after saying it would be upgrading its core domestic networks infrastructure to deliver an additional 8Tbps of capacity between Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne ahead of the ASC becoming ready for service.

"We're expecting immediate network activity when the ASC is ready for service, so this upgrade is critical to ensuring we keep ahead of demand and continue to provide the most advanced and intelligent network for our customers," Mackinnon said in January.

"The ASC project includes two new PoPs in Singapore, replacing the existing PoP. It will also add diversity and multiple hand-off options in Equinix SG1/SG3 and STT/Globalswitch.

"An entirely new PoP for Christmas Island is a first for Vocus, and will deliver the island's first ever terrestrial connection providing massive capacity uplift for the community."

Vocus had in August confirmed the ASC would be completed ahead of schedule, with services to be launched in July 2018 despite adding a spur to Christmas Island, ahead of competitor cable systems Indigo and Trident.

Vocus -- which last month again announced a downgrade for its financial guidance after announcing a restructure -- signed Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks in December to help build the 4,600km ASC, which is designed to carry 40Tbps at a minimum across four fibre pairs.

The ASC was originally a 50-50 joint-venture deal between Vocus and Nextgen Networks. Vocus subsequently purchased Nextgen Networks for AU$700 million in June 2016, paying an additional AU$27 million for the ASC and AU$134 million for the North West Cable System (NWCS).

The $139 million 2,100km fibre-optic NWCS went live in September 2016.

Last month, Vocus additionally announced entering an agreement with Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to scope out the design, construction, and procurement of a subsea cable between Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands under an agreement worth AU$2,841,301.10 to Vocus.

Telecommunications carriers and consortiums have been racing to build out subsea cable capacity across the Asia-Pacific region, driven by the rapid increase in data usage globally.

In addition to the ASC, NWCS, Indigo, and Trident, these cables include the Hawaiki Transpacific Submarine Cable System; Southern Cross Cable Network's NEXT cable; the Asia-Pacific Gateway (APG); the FASTER cable; the Jupiter subsea cable being built by a consortium including Facebook, Amazon, SoftBank, NTT Com, PLDT, and PCCW; and Superloop's Hong Kong cable.

Telstra last month also announced investing in two new Pacific submarine cable systems connecting Hong Kong with the West Coast of the United States: The Hong Kong Americas (HKA) and the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN).

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