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Singtel joins Telstra and SubPartners on 20Tbps Perth to Singapore subsea cable

The APX-West subsea cable connecting Perth to Singapore has been newly designed as a 20Tbps cable to be owned and operated by Telstra, Singtel, and SubPartners.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telstra, Singtel, and SubPartners have entered a memorandum of understanding to construct a high-capacity Perth to Singapore subsea cable.

The cable, named APX-West, will be 4,500km long, with two fibre pairs providing a minimum of 10 Terabits per second capacity each pair and two-way data transmission. It will replace the slower-speed SEA-ME-WE 3 (SMW3) cable, which currently carries data traffic between the two countries.

SubPartners, founded by Australian technology entrepreneur Bevan Slattery in 2012, was formed with the aim of building a subsea cable connecting the west coast of Australia with Singapore. According to Slattery, the cost of operating the cable has been reduced significantly by the sharing of ownership between the parties.

"The MOU is a major milestone for the project, with the foundation parties including Singtel, SubPartners, and Telstra committing to purchase the entire available capacity on the system," said Slattery, who is also the CEO of SubPartners.

"The APX-West system is a consortium cable with all the major players having access to ownership economics at a fraction of the cost of private cable ownership. This is a unique commercial model for the Perth-Singapore route that will satisfy the ongoing bandwidth requirements of both network operators and internet content hosts."

Thursday's MOU is the second attempt at constructing APX-West; Telstra had initially signed a memorandum of understanding with SubPartners for capacity on the subsea cable more than three years ago, in March 2013.

Slattery, who is also the CEO of dark fibre company Superloop and founder of elastic interconnection services provider Megaport, told ZDNet that the APX-West project has since been changed from being a private cable to a freshly designed cable owned by a consortium.

"Over the past few years, we have been working with all the major players to make APX-West a reality, and this took quite a bit of effort both in terms of design and commercial offering," Slattery told ZDNet.

"The 2016 cable is a consortium cable, meaning owners will have ownership economics on their respective capacity. This has attracted major providers including Telstra, Singtel, and others to join the consortium."

Slattery added that over the past three years, Singapore's role in connecting cities throughout the APAC region has grown, which has led to a jump in the amount of traffic between Australia and Singapore.

"The growth of traffic between Australia and Singapore is beyond SMW3's recently upgraded capacity, and it needs to be augmented with this diverse path. Add to that the recent submarine cable outages on cables connecting Australia over the past 12 months, this has crystallised the benefits of this new diverse path to Asia," Slattery explained to ZDNet.

"Ultimately, the commercial construct, the reworked design and timing, was right."

The original design for the cable involved a length of 4,600km, with four fibre pairs, 55 repeaters, 48 to 60 wavelengths per pair, and 100Gbps capacity per wavelength.

Ooi Seng Keat, vice president of Carrier Services, Group Enterprise at Singtel, agreed that the SMW3 cable needs to be complemented with a faster-speed offering due to the rising use of more data-heavy applications.

"The current data bridge between Singapore and Perth is carried by the SEA-ME-WE 3 cable. The APX-West cable will be a new data superhighway to expand data connectivity and capacity between Singapore and Australia, providing network redundancy and the lowest latency from Australia to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe," he said.

"Singtel has one of the most extensive submarine cable infrastructures in the Asia-Pacific region. With these capabilities, the Singtel Group, including Optus, can meet customers' growing data requirements for bandwidth-intensive applications such as unified communications, enterprise data exchange, internet TV, and online gaming."

The companies will begin constructing the new cable at the end of July, with completion expected by 2018.

Telstra said signing on to construct the APX-West subsea cable will add to its capacity, which is timely after the telco's own Australia-Singapore subsea cable experienced an outage in October last year. The outage had caused severe delays for customers attempting to download or update their operating systems or apps across the iTunes Store and the App Store, as well as when using streaming services Apple Music and Apple Radio.

"The MOU is a significant step forward in building what would be a valuable addition to Telstra's subsea network, which is one of the largest in the Asia-Pacific," said Darrin Webb, Telstra's executive director of International Operations and Services.

"As consumers and businesses continue to embrace online products and services, such as video streaming and cloud, the demand for international connectivity continues to rise, creating a strong case for building this new cable."

In February, TPG experienced a month-long outage across its Sydney-Guam submarine cable, while the Basslink Interconnector has been down since December, and will not restore services until at least mid June.

Updated at 11am AEDT, March 31: The cable has a capacity of 20Tbps, not 10Tbps, as each pair is 10Tbps.

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