You could be forgiven for thinking that connectivity between countries was predominately handled by satellites and other space-based infrastructure. In fact, the real solutions are buried deep beneath the waves. Subsea cables form a crucial part of our international network infrastructure.
Telstra operates the largest intra-Asia subsea cable network in the region, and we’re growing our footprint in Asia-Pacific with critical new cable paths. Our subsea cable network currently spans more than 400,000 kilometres – or just under 72,000 nautical leagues – under the sea. Jules Verne would be proud!
Such a vast network is enough to circle the globe more than 10 times over. This elaborate and impressive network of fibre optic cables continues to expand as we keep pace with the voracious appetite Australians have for high-speed data. But more than just planning for capacity, we’re mindful that we need to build resiliency at the same time as speed.
That’s where our investment with Southern Cross Cable
Network comes in.
Almost 80 per cent of all internet traffic to Australia
comes from the US, which makes the need for a high-speed and low-latency
connection between our two nations paramount. Our new investment in the Southern
Cross Cable Network’s (SCCN) existing cable infrastructure as well as the
upcoming NEXT cable is about safeguarding that connectivity for the future.
Telstra has acquired a 25 per cent equity interest in the existing Southern Cross Cable Network, joining existing shareholders in the project. It follows several other investments in our subsea cable infrastructure, including:
A significant increase in fibre capacity to our subsea infrastructure using Infinera’s Infinite Capacity Engine 4, and
The launch of a new rapid restoration service on our assured availability “Always on” service – a world-first offering to key routes in Asia – reducing restoration time from within eight hours to just minutes.
Alongside these investments, we’re excited to also partner
with SCCN as one of the anchor customer for its upcoming NEXT cable. Designed
to carry 72 Terabits per second of traffic, the equivalent of simultaneously
streaming 4.6 million ultra-high definition movies, Southern Cross’s NEXT will
meet our customers’ growing data requirements well into the future.
With the completion of the Southern Cross NEXT cable scheduled for
January 2022, Telstra customers will have access to capacity across the three
routes across the Pacific, connecting Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the
United States, maximising diversity and resiliency.
Thanks to our subsea investments, we are now well placed to
meet the growing data requirements of our customers now and into the future,
right across the Asia-Pacific region.
Michael Ebeid joined Telstra in October 2018 as Group Executive, Enterprise. In this role, he is responsible for revenues in excess of $8bn and manages a growing business that delivers connectivity, platforms, applications and tailored industry solutions to Telstra’s enterprise and government customers. He is also responsible for Enterprise’s international operations, with approximately 3,500 people in 20 countries and the largest subsea cable network in the Asia Pacific region.
Michael joined Telstra from SBS where he has been the CEO and Managing Director since 2011. In this role, he significantly evolved the public broadcaster's portfolio with four distinctive TV channels, an extensive in-language radio offering and new market-leading digital services like SBS On Demand which now has over five million registered users with high audience engagement.
Michael is a strategically focused leader with a 30-year career across the Technology, Telecommunications and Media sectors. He has a successful track record in leading organisational change and transformations and is passionate about workplace culture, leadership and diversity. In 2017, Michael was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his service to Broadcast Media and Multicultural Affairs and named CEO of the Year at the CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards.
Global Head of Connectivity & Platforms -
Our subsea cables are unsung connectivity heroes. Every day, terabytes of data are passed through these routes as they sit under the surface of some of the busiest and most turbulent seas in the world. Their importance can’t be overstated, which is why we’re making sure that from today they’re always on.
Together with Ericsson and Ciena, we’re turning on what’s called continuous connection for our subsea cabling. Using Ciena’s GeoMesh Extreme solution, we’re able to build an ‘always on’ service that reconnects interrupted subsea cable traffic in minutes, not hours. This means automatic reconnection and greater resiliency on our routes from Singapore to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Japan and Japan to Singapore.
We have the largest subsea cable network in the Asia Pacific, and protecting it means making sure everyone knows where these invisible backbones of the internet are so they can take care.
We work with commercial transport vessels to ensure they know the location of our cables via the Automatic Identification System (AIS) while also meeting local fishing vessel crews and unions to let them know where our cables are. These fishing vessels are also given ways to contact us just in case they catch a cable instead of a fish.
Because of the care we’ve taken educating and protecting our
infrastructure, we’ve achieved a 30 per cent reduction in impacts to our
network service year-on-year. And with our always-on service now going live,
we’re further improving uptime and resiliency.
Now if a route is damaged or interrupted, our always on
technology will be able to switch traffic to another cable within minutes.
Previously this process would have taken hours of work. This now means that our
carrier customers (such as financial services organisations and cloud service
providers) can improve their service level agreements (SLAs) to provide better
uptime to their customers.
We’ve already been helping cloud service providers do business faster and with greater reliability on our Asia Pacific routes during testing, and with the official launch, we’re excited to bring these improvements to all our customers.
Global Head of Connectivity & Platforms -
Nadya is responsible for Telstra’s Connectivity, Voice and Platforms Portfolio for all geographies outside of Australia. She is based in Singapore and was appointed to this role in December 2015 from within Telstra. Her role includes managing a global team of product managers for Telstra’s global connectivity, satellite, voice and harmonization portfolio for Telstra’s Wholesale and Enterprise customers. Prior to joining Telstra, Nadya led technology sales at BT in the Asia Pacific and has held positions at Microsoft and within the oil and gas industry. Nadya holds a Bachelor of Engineering in Oil & Gas & Economics from the University of Western Australia and several other accreditations in music. She loves football and Formula 1, and is recently an avid extreme sports enthusiast.
From Phnom Penh to Indigo West: three decades of connecting Asia
When it comes to creating telecommunications infrastructure, there’s not much that Andrew Hankins, Head of Network Evolution for Telstra Enterprise, hasn’t seen in his 30 years at Telstra. Here he looks back on some of his experiences, from Phnom Penh to San Francisco, where he helped create the networks that deliver connectivity as we know it in Asia Pacific today.
When you think about the most connected places in the world, you might instinctively think of New York or Silicon Valley. But really you need to look to Asia Pacific where Hong Kong and Singapore lead the way.
It’s fair to say things have changed since I first started at the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (the OTC – now Telstra). In fact, Indigo West is just one of many milestones in telecoms history I have witnessed in my 30 years at Telstra.
In at the deep end
My experiences in Asia started in the late 1980s. The OTC sent me to Cambodia where, like some other countries in the region at the time, networks were almost non-existent.
Our first job was building out international connectivity with satellite stations in the country’s capital Phnom Penh. If you wanted to make a call out of the country, you had to connect to the circuits running either to Hanoi or Moscow. It was certainly a new experience given this was around the time of the end of the Cold War and fall of the Berlin Wall.
Unlike my first postings at the Elizabeth Street office and the Oxford Falls Satellite station testing new antennas in the comfortable surrounds of Sydney’s suburbs, our work in Cambodia was characterised by frequent blackouts and trips to the Russian embassy to stock up on cornflakes.
The United Nations arrived in 1992 with a mandate to restore civil government, hold elections and rehabilitate a country ravaged by civil war and military occupation.
As the UN embarked on a nation-building program, we built a communications network for around 22,000 military and civilian personnel. This included the first mobile network in the country.
Even with the UN’s large presence, it wasn’t without its challenges. Each network site had to be checked and cleared of landmines before we could start construction. And members of our team had to travel to the Khmer Rouge heartlands to install phone lines and satellite links.
Soon the telecom market began to open up. Three mobile phone companies were allowed to set up and operate in the country. Between 1992 and 1995 we built a larger international exchange and infrastructure to connect the mobile phone networks.
Andrew Hankins was appointed the Head of Network Evolution for Telstra Enterprise in September 2016. He is responsible for the architecture and planning of Telstra’s core international network, including the submarine cable, transmission and IP networks.
Andrew has over 25 years of experience in international telecommunications, during which he held senior positions in engineering, network planning, operations, and the international carrier business. Andrew has extensive industry experience in transmission, submarine cable, international telephony, satellite and internet technologies and platforms.
Prior to joining Telstra, Andrew worked at Reach for 10 years where his last held position was Director of Engineering. He previously held senior management positions with the company in the engineering and operations fields.
Andrew has a Master of Business Administration from the University of Technology, Sydney, and an honour degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Queensland.
Our long history in Asia – a lot more than just cables and PoPs
It is also, however, a time to reflect on the entirety of what we do and highlight some of the lesser reported facts about connecting the world to Asia – and Asia to the world.
Building and operating the largest subsea cable network in APAC with 30 per cent of the lit intra-Asia capacity is not easy. But in addition to that, we have also built a strong in-country footprint across the region in markets with different languages, cultural norms, climatic conditions, not to mention complex access regimes. That’s why we’re extremely proud of the work we’ve done to become the number one foreign telecommunications provider in South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines – and one of the top few in mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.*
A shared experience creating Asian connectivity
These achievements are founded on a long
history on the ground in Asia.
From the development of the first international networks into Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to work on the first Hong Kong to Singapore cable, we have been deeply involved in delivering connectivity in Asia. We were instrumental in the development on the first mobile networks in India and Sri Lanka, as well as the first 2G network in Thailand.
We are honoured to have contributed to these developments, and even more proud that some of the people who achieved these feats are still with us today more than 30 years later.
An ongoing commitment to in-country Asian expertise
Today, Asia is booming. The region’s economic rise has seen it called the “world growth engine”, driven by countries that make up more than 60 per cent of the world’s population, and those people are demanding connectivity!
And we are playing a vital role in
supporting this growth. In January, Telstra made an investment on the Japan to
US route on the new-generation New Cross Pacific cable. These investments
are part of a long-term strategy to capture data demand across Asia and the
Pacific, in conjunction with our leading position on the HK-US route and
investment in both Hong Kong Americas and Pacific Light Cable Network.
When it comes to infrastructure we continue to: build out our subsea cable network boosting capacity and resiliency delivering our always on promise, increase our investment in our backhaul network across China, Taiwan, Japan & Korea, and be at forefront of providing connectivity between US & China.
But technology and connectivity don’t meet all our customers’ needs. That’s why we continue to build our local presence and engage with the local governments and the business community, to offer local service, support and counsel to customers around the world.
Relationship goals: milestones in key markets
This enviable position is due to our culture of partnering with our customers, and of having strong engineering expertise and an exemplary service record.
We have engaged local staff, forged public and private partnerships, and invested in domestic infrastructure making it easier for our customers to do business across mainland China, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan and more.
This year marks a decade of operations for our Telstra PBS joint venture in China, founded on the strength of our long-term relationships with Chinese partners. We were the first Sino-foreign joint venture with a cross-provincial IPVPN license in mainland China, building and operating data centres, IPVPN networks and backhaul that now extend to 47 PoPs in 37 cities – with more coming soon. We are the only western Telco with approval for cross border VPN into China.
We also celebrate our fifth anniversary of telkomtelstra in Indonesia; our joint venture with Indonesia’s largest carrier Telkom. Marrying Telkom’s extensive domestic network capability and infrastructure with our international and service capabilities, we offer end-to-end managed solutions across Indonesia.
Connect to Asian expertise
Individually, each of these developments
offers answers to some of our customers’ biggest challenges in looking to
connect with Asian growth.
But all together they underline the strength of our commitment – both in the ongoing development of our subsea network and our extensive, unique in-country people & asset footprint – to support our customers do business in Asia in bigger and better ways.
* Assessment based on three criteria, including each of total number of in-country employees, total in-country revenue and domestic network footprint.
Oliver Camplin-Warner is the Head of International at Telstra, where he is responsible for Wholesale and Enterprise sales and service internationally. Based in Hong Kong, Oliver has nearly two decades of experience in telecommunications and technology in Australia and the United Kingdom. Oliver has two young children, and together with his wife Alisa are co-founders of the charity Finnan’s Gift. This charity was set up in memory of their late son Finnan, and serves to raise awareness and much needed funds for congenital heart disease.
The complexities (and quirks) of protecting our subsea cables
Network Engineering & Planning Principal -
Despite the Asia Pacific region being one of world’s most treacherous environments for subsea cables, Telstra saw unplanned subsea network impacts reduce by more than 30 per cent last year – our lowest levels in a decade. A trend we have ambitions to maintain. We’re also proud to own one of the region’s most resilient undersea networks. Andy Lumsden, who leads Telstra’s international networks engineering and operations team, explains the quirks and complexities of why.
If I asked you to list the most important infrastructure for a growing economy, you might say: “Roads, railways, electrical grids.” If you look outside the window right now, you can see the impact of this infrastructure connecting people, moving goods, powering business. But what if you went a little deeper, literally? Increasingly, it’s the infrastructure people can’t see that’s powering our global economies.
I’m talking about subsea cables: the fibre-optic cables carefully threaded under the globe’s ocean floor like a web, providing the backbone to the Internet and connecting us all to the world.
And while this infrastructure may not come first to mind, when it’s impacted (think no Netflix or halting trade on the stock market) you better believe people notice. Telstra has the largest subsea cable network in the Asia Pacific, and a hefty part of my job is protecting it. I can tell you, this is no easy task.
Asia represents the most treacherous environment for subsea cables anywhere in the world. I’ll explain why this is (and no, it’s not cable-gnawing sharks), but first I want to let you in on a recent coup. Last year Telstra saw a more than 30 per cent reduction in service impacts on our subsea network. We had less cables cuts, damage and service impacts. This is during a time when our network expanded, and other competitors saw their issues grow. Let me explain why.
The big three dangers
When most people think about the perils of the sea, they think about sharks, electric eels or perhaps Ursula from The Little Mermaid – my concerns are a little different. The waters in the Asia Pacific are particularly shallow, and the region where many of our cables sit is on the plateaux of the Pacific Rim fault. These shallow waters relate to the three main threats to our cables:
Anyone who has flown into Singapore or Hong Kong and looked out the window will have seen the spectacle of the mass of commercial vessels in these harbours. Container ships and oil vessels can stretch hundreds of meters long, but it’s their anchors – which can weigh tens of tonnes alone – that represent a significant danger to our cables. While there are strict shipping lanes and non-anchorage zones around cables, a combination of shallow water, high volume shipping and the large number of cables sharing seabed space is a risky business.
Fishing for trouble
Right now it’s fishing season in the northern regions of Asia. Picture this. Thousands of fishing vessels of all shapes and sizes set off at dawn, laser-focused on catching as many fish as possible. They’ll use stow net fishing, bottom trawling, long line fishing, drift net fishing… whatever necessary to catch the biggest load. It’s both some of these techniques (and illegal ones) and anchors that can get caught on and damage our cables. Pretty much as soon as the fishing season started this year, we had a cut to one of our cables. With less controls and mechanisms to track than larger commercial vessels, fishermen have become an increasing issue for cable operators.
Hell or high water
Natural disasters are the third of the big three dangers. The Asia Pacific’s proximity to the Pacific Rim fault line, also known as the Ring of Fire, means the region is prone to subsea earthquakes that can trigger subsidence and seabed shift. With our cables laid within the ocean floor, the sheer power of these events can damage and break our fibre.
We see another unique climate risk around Taiwan in particular, which is caused by high volumes of rainfall. As Taiwan is a mountainous country, after heavy rain large volumes of water enters the sea on the eastern coastline where our cables run. The water and debris push into the ocean like an underwater avalanche and can also damage cables.
Of course the other natural event in this region, which thankfully we don’t see as often, is a tsunami affect – and the damage can be the catastrophic. Due to some incredible partnership work, Telstra was the only cable provider in that region to stay connected during the 2011 Japan tsunami.
Creating and protecting a resilient subsea network involves many things, from the optical transmission and IP network built on top of the cables, to how the cables are interconnected. For Telstra, the large scale of our network and on-going strategic investment to build our subsea footprint creates redundancy options in the Asia Pacific that other operators simply don’t have. But there are a number of things we have been leading in this space for a number of years.
I mentioned the danger of giant anchors on commercial vessels earlier. We have responded to this through something called AIS, a ship’s Automatic Identification System. All vessels over a certain size must have a transponder on board. This emits a signal that identifies the ship, its speed and direction. We use a system to monitor where ships are, and if they’re close to one of our cables and look like they’re slowing down, we’ll contact the vessel to warn them they’re close to our cables and shouldn’t be stopping. Our team contacts about 30 vessels every month, particularly in Singapore. Since we’ve been proactive with AIS, we’ve seen incidents with commercial vessels decline by approximately 20 per cent. But it is not perfect, particularly when further out to sea, or during heavy weather when anchors can be deployed to slow a ship down.
Friends with the fisherman
The fishing industry in the Asia Pacific presents its own challenges – it’s a tough living being a fisherman, particularly for the smaller scale operations. To combat the risk these boats pose to our infrastructure, we had to think a little more laterally. And that’s where Telstra’s local teams from our regional operations and cable landing station come in.
Our local teams across Asia went out to meet with their fishing unions, fishing committees, and fishing villages to build awareness of our cable system and how to avoid it. Over a beer or two, we shared charts and maps, and asked the fisherman that if they snagged a cable, to contact us directly before they cut their anchor or net – and we’d reimburse them if the risk was serious enough to warrant.
Working together to avoid potential issues is very important. On top of that, we have our partner cable repair vessels on standby in Taiwan. Telstra invests in commissioning smaller guard boats, which patrol cable areas during fishing season, support cable operations with local and dedicated marine teams advising boats when they’re fishing close to our cables.
Measure twice, cut once
While these measures have had an impact, the greatest resiliency comes from planning – which I realise sounds obvious. Avoidance is the best policy. Cables are buried at key points into the seabed, ideally (but not always possible) three metres down in waters less than a 1000 meters. But more than that, we use constant data and insights to inform our decisions.
From starting my career at BT building terrestrial networks in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s, to developing subsea infrastructure across almost every parts of the world with Global Crossing, Asia Netcom, Pacnet – and now Telstra, I’ve learnt from some tough experiences.
Route planning and good execution is critical and a vital element in a successful cable project. Compromises, which sometimes are necessary in deployment, draw on the operational experiences hard learned. The amount of data we now have available to plan or augment existing routes to best avoid shipping, fishing and environmental challenges, I believe will further boost the resiliency of our new systems well into the future.
For example, Telstra has been building the new INDIGO WEST cable with our partners over the past 12 months. One of the areas we gave most consideration to was the Sunda Strait, which separates Java and Sumatra. You may have seen this region in the news with the recent eruption of the Anak Krakatau volcano and subsequent tsunami and sad loss of life.
Natural disasters are just one challenge of the Strait – a narrow channel with a high volume of commercial and fishing shipping activity. In our planning, we analysed a high range of topological, environmental and shipping data to lay our cable in the most protected western passage as far away as much was possible from the high risk area existing cables(s) have been impacted by.
When we switch on INDIGO WEST for our customers in the mid-year, it’s our hope this work will pay dividends for our customers.
Combining scale, technology and partnerships
Something that’s unique to Telstra is the scale of our underwater infrastructure – which brings further resiliency to our network. It means we have a repair ship 80 per cent dedicated to us. The size of our subsea network, combined with new technologies, has allowed us to create an intelligent network that is capable of remarkable things. We announced this week a new partnership with Ericsson and Ciena to deliver a continuous connection service on some of our busiest subsea cable routes in Asia. Through Ciena’s flexible programmable infrastructure technology and GeoMesh Extreme solution, we will be able to reroute customers impacted by potential damage to another subsea cable path on our network within 30 minutes.
By protecting our current infrastructure, drawing on our team’s depth of experience in planning, and working with our partners to bring the latest technology to increase the capabilities of our infrastructure, we are creating an increasingly resilient subsea network for our customers and end users. So whether that means uninterrupted Netflix or allowing trade on the stock exchange, we remain focused on continuously building redundancy and resiliency for everyone.
Network Engineering & Planning Principal -
Based in Hong Kong, as Principal and Lead for Engineering and Operations within Telstra’s International Networks, Andy leads efforts to maintain and further develop Telstra's network leadership, across platforms and infrastructure Internationally. He previously served as Pacnet’s CTO and Network Service Head, and was responsible for developing Pacnet’s submarine cable network architecture.
Andy has over 25 years of telecom technology experience in Optical, IP and Marine Engineering & Operations, and has held positions including Managing Director for APAC at Xtera, Director of Engineering at Asia Netcom and Senior Project Manager at Global Crossing, having the opportunity to develop several major private cable systems at a key time within the industry.
Andy began his career at British Telecom and has spent a number of years in the UK, USA and has resided in the Asia Pacific region for the past 18 years.