Submarine cable network nears 500 companies over 1.3 million km

New interactive map of sub-sea connectivity industry shows how providers are enhancing the user experience with new cables, landing stations, and upgraded search and select functionalities

Global telecoms market research and consulting firm TeleGeography has upgraded its Interactive Submarine Cable Map to show the extent of the current rapid growth of a market that now comprises 487 global cables and 1,304 unique landing stations.

Such installations now mean that as of 2021, TeleGeography has recorded more than 1.3 million kilometres of submarine cables in service globally, representing more than $8bn in new cable investments over the next three years.

TeleGeography’s new infrastructure map captures decades of network history. Beneath the surface, cables were traditionally owned by telecom carriers that would form a consortium of all parties interested in using a cable. In the late 1990s, an influx of entrepreneurial companies built lots of private cables and sold off the capacity to users. 

The analyst said both the consortium and private cable models still exist, but one of the biggest changes in recent years has been the types of company involved in building cables.

Specifically, content providers such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon are now major investors in new cables. Also, the amount of capacity deployed by private network operators such as these hyperscalers has outpaced internet backbone operators in recent years. Faced with the prospect of massive bandwidth growth, owning new submarine cables makes sense for these companies, said TeleGeography.

In August 2021, Facebook confirmed its participation in the new Apricot subsea cable system for Asia and announced expansion of the 2Africa collaboration, of which it is a leading member. Expected to launch in 2024, the 12,000km-long cable is designed to connect Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. When completed, subject to regulatory approvals, Apricot is designed to deliver what the partners say will be much-needed internet capacity, redundancy and reliability to expand connections in the Asia-Pacific region.

Such a cable infrastructure is seen as able to help meet the growing demand for 4G, 5G and broadband access in the region.

The new research follows a July 2021 study from the analyst showing how the Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the international bandwidth market’s critical role in keeping the world connected and moving. In Canada and the US, this has resulted in international bandwidth connected to and between those countries more than doubling every two years between 2016 and 2020.

In its report, TeleGeography noted that if demand was the key factor in assessing the health of the global bandwidth market, then the market is thriving. It said that on a global scale, total international bandwidth has more than quadrupled during this period, exceeding 2Pbps. Overall demand has accelerated across not just the US and Canada, but on nearly all global networks, with operators feeling this increase most acutely in the access networks.

The report also showed that to get a sense of content providers’ thirst for bandwidth to and from the US and Canada, hyperscalers accounted for 91% of used capacity on the transatlantic route in 2020, but just 12% on the Europe-East Asia route. Demand growth has been strongest on links connected to Africa, which experienced a compound annual growth rate of 54% between 2016 and 2020.

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