More than $8bn forecast for cable investments over next three years

2021 Submarine Cable Map research reveals the changing dynamics in the market

The surging tide in demand for network content services has prompted massive investment below the water, according to the 2021 Submarine cable map from TeleGeography, with the global telecommunications market research and consulting firm noting that the market has never been so dynamic.

The study, sponsored by Telecom Egypt, visualised 464 global cables and 1,245 landing stations, as well as major future deployments, offering insights into top cable suppliers, landing stations, cable lengths, deployments and the influence of new players on submarine cable investments in particular content providers. And it was the latter community which was singled out in the report, for its continued disruptive effect on the market.

Overall the study showed that there are over 1.3 million km of submarine cables spanning the globe, which would wrap around Earth more than 30 times end-to-end. Of the 464 cables displayed in this 2021 edition of the research, 428 were listed as active and 36 are planned. Out of these planned cables, 19 are brand new to TeleGeography’s map of the global network, boasting a combined length 103,348 km.

In addition, the study revealed that new subsea cables have been deployed across every global route grouping, with more systems expected in the coming three years.

The Intra-Asian route is expected to experience the most investment, with a projected $1.6bn in new cables to be launched.

Africa was found to be home to one of the longest cables ever planned, 2Africa created by a consortium including China Mobile, Facebook, MTN, Orange, STC, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone and WIOCC. The 37,000 km  cable is designed to connect 16 countries in Africa and 23 countries overall.

Besides its extreme length, the cable also features a potential capacity of over 180 Tbps over 16 fibre pairs. More African projects highlighted were Maroc Telecom’s new West Africa cable, Maroc Telecom West Africa, will head south from Casablanca linking Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, and Gabon later this year. Australian company SUB.CO is launching the first cable directly linking the Middle East with Australia, Oman Australia Cable (OAC). The company hopes to get this cable into service by December 2021.

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In Latin America, EllaLink will connect Brazil to Portugal in the second quarter of 2021, featuring Q2. The cable also features branches to Madeira and Cape Verde. Malbec – a joint build between Facebook and GlobeNet, which already operates a US/South America cable system – will link two landing points in Brazil to Argentina and should also enter service in Q2.

European cabling projects were headed by CrossLake Fibre’s CrossChannel Fibre cable, a new 500-kilometer route connecting London to Paris. The cable is scheduled to be in service by October.

Looking at what the cable networks were carrying, TeleGeography observed that having accounted for less than 10% prior to 2012, content providers’ share of total capacity surged to 66% in 2020. It added that unlike previous cable construction booms, content providers like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are taking a more active role in the submarine cable market.

These companies alone were found to be creating what the analyst called such “incredible” demand for data centre traffic that they were driving projects and route prioritisation for submarine cable systems. The report noted Google alone has more than 15 subsea cable investments globally. 

The 2021 map illustrates a market that’s experiencing more deployments, with new and diverse players,” said TeleGeography research director Alan Mauldin.

“Over the last decade, we’ve seen content providers emerge as disruptors, ramping up investments to meet global demand for their services. The submarine cable market has never been so dynamic and we’re thrilled to showcase our data and analysis on all things subsea cable.”

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