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Vocus to scope out Pacific subsea cable for government

Vocus will spend the next three months consulting with the Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands governments on a high-capacity telecommunications subsea cable to connect them with Australia, thanks to a AU$2.8 million tender with the federal government.

Vocus has 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.

The agreement with the government is worth AU$2,841,301.10 to Vocus, according to tender documents.

Vocus, which announced its restructure earlier this week, said the three-month scoping study would involve consulting with the governments of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, gathering detailed requirements, conducting a desktop survey, tendering the cable system project, and commencing permits.

This is then expected to lead to the rollout of the cable system on behalf of the Australian government from 2018.

"Vocus cable designs use the latest multi-terabit technology and would vastly improve the international connectivity of Papua New Guinea and bring high-speed international telecommunications to Solomon Islands for the first time," Vocus said.

According to Vocus, Solomon Islands is currently reliant on satellite telecommunications for its broadband, while PNG's subsea cable is low capacity and nearing end of life.

"Our experience as network builders, owners, and operators puts us in a strong position to lead this project on behalf of the Australian government," Vocus CEO Geoff Horth said.

"The expertise we have gained from designing and developing the North-West Cable System and the Australia-Singapore Cable means that we have the team and the knowledge that can deliver the best outcome for Pacific Islands connectivity."

Vocus is expected to start laying the cable for its Australia Singapore Cable (ASC) project next month.

The ASC, worth $170 million, has been delivered to Singapore.

One third of the cable and repeaters will begin being laid in February by the Ile de Re cable laying ship, while the remaining two thirds will be transferred to the Ile de Batz ship in Christmas Island.

The former ship will lay cable between Singapore and Christmas Island, while the latter will travel from Christmas Island to Perth. Both legs will use different cable-laying techniques, as the first leg of the cable must be buried because it will be laid in the shallow and busy Java Sea route, Vocus said.

"We will perform the final splice in April, enabling the commissioning to begin. That will take place in May and June, giving us a ready-for-service date soon after," head of Vocus International Luke Mackinnon said in November.

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 signed Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks in December to help build the 4,600-kilometre ASC, which is designed to carry 40Tbps at a minimum across four fibre pairs.

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.

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.

Updated at 3.13pm AEDT: Added tender value

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