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Telstra guarantees subsea cables 'always on' in Japan, HK, Singapore

Telstra's 'highly resilient' Japan-Hong Kong and Hong Kong-Singapore subsea cables now come with a guarantee that services will never suffer outages for more than a few hours.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telstra has guaranteed customers on its Japan-Hong Kong and Singapore-Hong Kong subsea cables that they will almost immediately be rerouted to another connection route in the event of submarine cable damage under its new "always on" policy.

Currently, when subsea cables suffer damage, it takes months to reconnect customers. Telstra is now promising a wait time of a number of hours, which will be brought down to just minutes thanks to automation in future.

According to Telstra, which announced the policy at the Pacific Telecommunications Council conference in Hawaii, it now has a high enough number of diverse cables in its subsea network to guarantee almost unceasing uptime, including in the event of a natural disaster or a cable being accidentally cut.

"Meeting customers' expectations can be difficult when it comes to international connectivity, with cables at risk of service disruptions due to cable cuts caused by boats, earthquakes, and typhoons," Ellie Sweeney, Telstra executive director of Global Sales, said.

"We have developed a highly resilient service on key routes that will mean customers are guaranteed connectivity for their subscribed bandwidth, with one primary path and two protection paths over different cable systems along the same route."

In a blog post last week, Telstra emphasised its serious protection policy for its subsea cable network -- including from natural disasters, fishing vessels, and shallow shipping ports -- which it described as being a "constant challenge".

In order to protect against natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes, managing director for Telstra North East Asia Darrin Webb said the telco retains two maintenance ships in Taiwan at all times, enabling them to be deployed instantly in the event of a natural disaster.

"These teams work to rebury cables that have been damaged or washed away," Webb explained, adding that Telstra's overland fibre cable networks in Asia are also used as replacements for subsea cables in earthquake-prone areas.

The major challenge presented by fishing vessels is when they drop anchors and drift nets in shallow water, high-activity fishing areas such as around China, Korea, and Taiwan. Telstra combats this by making use of regulated fishing vessels' GPS trackers, and employing crews to monitor popular areas for unregulated fishing vessels.

It also buries its subsea cables around 3m below the seabed in the highest damage areas in order to prevent future damage.

In regards to shallow shipping ports, including those in Singapore and Hong Kong, Telstra said it avoids cable cuts with its dedicated team using the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to track and monitor the locations of every container ship in the area.

"AIS provides information on each vessel, such as their unique identification number, position, course, and speed," Webb said.

"If a ship gets too close, our team will make a call to the captain so they can adjust their course. On average, our team contacts 30 to 50 container ships a month."

In May last year, Telstra also announced building out a fibre overland route in Taiwan, a fibre ring network in South Korea, and a submarine cable connecting its networks in Asia to India and the Middle East.

The measures were announced as part of Telstra's ongoing investment in the 36,000km cable network system connecting China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, which the telco acquired as part of purchasing Pacnet for $697 million in December 2014.

The new overland fibre network in Taiwan circumvents the natural disaster-prone Luzon Strait region, connecting to Telstra's submarine cables in that area for the route between Taipei and Hong Kong.

The telecommunications provider is also building out a fibre ring connecting its current points of presence in South Korea, providing eight 100Gbps interconnection routes in and out of the country. The Korean "ring topology" fibre network will enable more reliability and redundancy options across the network by connecting to additional submarine cables.

Telstra will also connect Singapore, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates through the Bay of Bengal Gateway 100Gbps submarine cable system, which will be made up of three fibre pairs and stretch around 8,000km long.

In addition, Telstra recently obtained capacity on the new trans-pacific "FASTER" 10,000km subsea cable system connecting Japan with the west coast of the United States. The subsea cable, consisting of six fibre pairs, makes use of 10Gbps wave technology.

Telstra also entered a memorandum of understanding in March last year to construct a high-capacity Perth to Singapore subsea cable alongside Singtel and SubPartners.

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.

APX-West has an expected construction completion date of 2018.

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